Shrewsbury School

Music: The End of Lent Term Concert, reviewed by Martin Knox

Wednesday 20 March 2013

The welcome from the Brass Ensemble that traditionally opens major concerts was missing this year, for a very good reason, of which more later. We were not to be denied the sound of the trumpet, however, as Henry Thomas, only in his second year at Shrewsbury , but already an established star of the music department, stepped up to play a movement of the Haydn concerto. He would probably have appreciated the chance to warm up in a fanfare, but once he got into his stride, there was much to admire in his nimble, authoritative playing. His contribution did not end there, for his incisive attack and diamond-bright tone illuminated the many subsequent items in which he participated.

From a familiar work to one that is by comparison a rarity. We should be grateful to Dorit Hasselberg for giving us the chance to hear a clarinet concerto by Louis Spohr, in his day a well-known composer, but now fallen into neglect. Similar to Hummel and perhaps Weber, his work makes a pleasing sound and the soloist was equal to all its demands. It was not the fault of Dorit or of JFM that some of the accompaniment is too heavily scored for the solo part to come through, but when the way was clear, the assurance with which the most difficult passages were handled by the virtuoso performer was a delight. Dorit is a strong contender in the Shropshire Concerto Competition.

Inspired by the success of last year’s “Magic Flute”, the department is putting on another full-length opera next term and, as a trailer, presented two numbers here. A full review will follow in due course.

Up to this point, the orchestral playing had been inconsistent. Would they rise to the occasion in the symphony (Rachmaninov No 1)?  What followed was not so much an improvement as a transformation. From first to last, this was one of the finest performances I have ever heard from the school orchestra. Technically secure and utterly committed, they responded to John Moore’s fiery, urgent direction in an interpretation that made nonsense of the work’s early failure.  There was not a weak link, not a slack moment in a performance of which all concerned should be proud.

In the absence of the Community Choir (on operatic duty) there was a chance to hear Alex Mason’s Chapel Choir in concert, though their chosen piece, Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb” was still from the ecclesiastical repertoire. It would probably have sounded even better in the Chapel, but it still came across effectively in the Alington Hall, for there was a movingly ethereal quality about the pianissimo singing and the diction was exceptionally fine. Such clarity from a large group must take hours of practice. Solos, resonantly delivered by Teresa Fawcett Wood, Jonty Binns, Laurence Jeffcoate, and Rob Cross, were further evidence of the current strength of this core institution. The applause went on until the last performer had left the stage.

Having already made a hit last month with the Big Band, Maria Eglinton showed that she could conjure spirited and disciplined playing from an ensemble twice the size. The “Yiddish Dances” by Adam Gorb, witty and uplifting, were well worth hearing, the complex score holding no terrors for the Wind Orchestra. There were some striking “special effects”, particularly from the trumpets and the clarinets.

Finally, enter the Brass Ensemble to the rousing strains of “Stars and Stripes Forever”.  In their midst, not conducting, just joining in, was Nigel Gibbon, who leaves us after twenty-six years of cheerful and dedicated service. He has taught hundreds of pupils and in the process driven thousands of miles, so it was appropriate that he should top the bill on this occasion.

After a couple more numbers, he announced an extra item, which seemed to cause total confusion in the band. Chaos, I thought. How embarrassing.  But I had fallen for a practical joke. The moment they began “The Bugler’s Holiday”, it was obvious that everything was under control, Nigel and three fellow-trumpeters, Henry Thomas, Harry Sargeant, and Brendan Parsons, leading the way with such gusto, such joie de vivre,  such flair as brought the house down. It was a fitting send-off for this hugely popular man.


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