Shrewsbury School

St Cecilia Concerts: "an orchestral and choral feast"

Thursday 21 November 2019

Capacity audiences at our St Cecilia Concerts were treated to performances of exceptional quality and musicianship.

In the bulging annals of top-quality Salopian music-making, it was, to quote Daft Punk, a case of one Moore time. This year’s St Cecilia’s concert saw our resident maestro  (Director of Music John Moore) bow out with an orchestral and choral feast of ravishing variety and impact that showcased astonishing talents from pupils – and the attentive care and enthusiasm of his whole department.

Musical standards were set high from the outset. Beethoven’s Egmont Overture combined controlled sense of imperium with masterful dynamic colour – and we were whirled along in its closing dramatic urgency.

Then up stepped Frank Coughlan for a performance of Arutunian’s Trumpet Concerto of indelible and possibly unsurpassable quality. This School House wunderkind demonstrated exactly why he is a contender for the BBC Young Musician of the Year and principal trumpet for the National Youth Orchestra. His natural musicianship sparkled in articulate, virtuosic passage play alongside romantic smokiness in the muted palettes of the meno mosso section. His closing cadenza was a masterclass in technical accomplishment - bravo!

There was no let-up in the dramatic tension as the orchestra resumed its explorations of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, with rhythmic syncopations and strident brass expertly balanced against the mercurial folksiness of its translucent melodies. But as our resident maestro led the charge, it was an evening where the strength-in-depth of the Music Department was given ample exposure too. David Joyce, Head of Strings, conducted a selection of the Holberg Suite by Grieg that elegantly stirred its undercurrents of melancholia with delicate touch; Amos Cheung delivered a soulful solo on cello.

In the second half, another JFM lieutenant, the new Head of Choral Benedict Wilson, corralled the choral talent of the Chamber Choir in folksong Ca The Yowes (with a lovely, sweet solo from Georgina Cooper) and a Billy Joel Lullaby. Both these miniatures embraced kaleidoscopic colour and dove-tailing, swooping energies that were just exquisite – and masterfully done.

The main choral work came as the Shrewsbury School Community and Chapel Choirs combined forces for the Chilcott Requiem. This is a work that channels the polychromatic influence of Duruflé and Fauré, jazz and Gospel into an unmistakably English choral tradition. The result – thanks to intensely focused performance from all – was a work of endlessly fascinating texture and depth. Soloists Saffron Milner and Tabitha Winkley expertly matched the professional standing of Dan Norman (OS) with superb performances of great courage and panache as the wall of sound loomed behind them. Bravi for a show of wonderful musicality and feeling that had the audience utterly transfixed.

It was left to Maria McKenzie’s Wind Orchestra to close the evening with inimitable style, zip and a final fling of star-dust theatricality with Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. This was Bernstein tight and neat and with plenty of bang. It was toe-tappingly good. Mambo!

Mr Fraser-Andrews

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