Shrewsbury School

Gala Concert given by Shrewsbury School Orchestras and Choirs

Friday 4 May 2018

When snow snuffed out the possibility of Birmingham Town Hall performance, the Music Faculty, undaunted, prepared instead for a blockbuster weekend of late Mozart genius. 

Consequently, audiences who were wowed by the vocal dexterities and wonderfully madcap zaniness of The Magic Flute over two nights (see review) were then treated to the glories of his death-bed Requiem on the third. It was worth the wait.

However, the preceding pieces for the School Symphony Orchestra and Wind Orchestra in the programme were in no sense a warm-up: they arrived polished, refreshed and with a white-hot creative sizzle all of their own. 

In Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol, Matthew Poon was the first of the night’s soloists to step up and into the shoes of Sarasate – at the time a byword for violin virtuosity and for whom the piece was written – and whose artistry Matthew emulated with aplomb. His individualistic approach combined composure and sweet tone that was nonetheless remarkable for the wizardry in dispatching the technical demands of the piece: seriously impressive fiddle playing. 

Similarly adept was Harry Lawrence who recreated the sound world of Mozart’s E flat horn concerto with controlled and melodious feeling that belied the challenge of this princely instrument. Attentive listening from the orchestra made for wonderful sensitivity in the ensemble in both pieces. 

Selections from Dvorak’s G major symphony continued the Moore masterclass in tight ensemble playing with evocative colours and tunefulness. Some super solo contributions, fleeting like the birdcall that echoed through these two movements, too. Ella Johnson, in particular, provided some magic flute.

Next, the Wind Orchestra sprang into action with Adam Gorb’s Spring into Action with all the spriteliness and verve that is the hallmark of Maria McKenzie’s well drilled band. After the opening Allegro, the finale’s motivic energies grabbed the audience by the scruff of its neck audience in the stylish exploitation of cross rhythms – a musical hailstorm after the contrapuntal, sultry textures of bruised springtime sky in the bridging Lento. 

Before it took part in its second requiem of the month (see review of Faure's Requiem), the Chapel Choir delivered a soulful rendition of Ave Verum, which Mozart wrote in a break from composing The Magic Flute, and only months before he embarked on the final composition of his short life, the famous Requiem (eventually completed with the help of his pupil, Franz Süssmayr). 

Under the baton of John Moore, the Shrewsbury School Choral Society and Orchestra were the able partners to four exciting soloists, Natalie Clifton-Griffith, Kathryn Turpin, Daniel Norman-Taylor (OS) and Jonathan May - all of whom are closely and variously associated with the School. 

In this encounter of the operatic with the sacred, the quartet brought decades of experience and performing panache to the evening. How lucky we were to hear them – and how fortunate were the pupils too who, some of them treading into Mozart’s operatic world for the first or second time the night before, were able to marvel at the combined expertise in their tracing of Mozartian songfulness in the line of the music, and in the ways they communicated with the audience with such impact. Credit too must go to all pupils and staff who, in the teeth of exam preparation (and all else that goes on), were able to produce a performance of such immaculate integrity and energy. Bravi!

Mr Fraser-Andrews

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