Shrewsbury School

St Cecilia Concerts - a glorious weekend of music-making

Friday 30 November 2018

"John Moore’s final St Cecilia Concerts embraced all the hallmarks we have come to expect from this golden age of Salopian music-making." - Review by Mr Fraser-Andrews.

Stand-out accomplishment in both ensembles and from soloists, irrepressible musicality, challenging repertoire, and the fizz of enjoyment that crackled first from the tip of his baton that proceeded, wand-like, to fill the Alington Hall with electric zing of thrilling esprit de corps. This was an evening when superlatives strained to capture the palpable sense of wonder and spontaneity curated by maestro Moore. It was a celebration of inarguable excellence.

First was Shostakovich’s Festive Overture – such insouciant programming for a school orchestra to kick off a programme with Shostakovich as an amuse-bouche. An uncharacteristically buoyant piece, it resulted from an age of post-Stalin détente, when Soviet artists embraced the forbidden delights of American culture in state-sponsored exchange.

Led immaculately by Matthew Poon (I U6), the Symphony Orchestra fully exploited the broad arcs of Shostakovich’s Copland-esque tunefulness. Percussion, wind, brass and strings delivered the Steppes-meets-Prairie gallop at the heart of this piece with rhythmic care at the same time as waving their hats, so to speak, with great brio.

We stayed in Russia as the first of the Salopian soloists took centre stage. From its first bell-like tolling, Kanei Nishii (Ch) assumed imperious command beyond his Fifth Form years to encompass the lush romanticism of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto. Attending with mature shapeliness to its sinuous melodic lines, he negotiated dance-like cross-rhythms and half-march, half-dance agitations of its first movement with dextrous aplomb. A real feat of pianism: bravo!

 

Beethoven’s first symphony soothed the heartache by returning us to jollier frame of mind. Elegance balanced with incipient genius tugging at the leash – the description of Beethoven’s formative large-scale writing in 1795 could just as much stand for its talented performers in 2018.

Autumnal richness reigned as the Wind Orchestra, under the solicitous control of Maria McKenzie, continued with a contemporary take in Eric Whitacre’s October. In both this striking piece, and in Bernstein’s Overture to Candide which followed, the musicians rose to the challenges of the writing with enthusiasm and a supple sense of idiom – a remarkable achievement.

After the interval, Matthew Poon moved into the spotlight and warmed things up with Vivaldi’s 'Summer' from The Four Seasons, with the String Orchestra from the recent tour to Hong Kong reassembled for one last show. David Joyce coaxed out wonderfully sweet tone from Matthew and the ensemble: rhythmic, well drilled playing that combined to say something refreshingly new from this most famous work.

 
We closed with Haydn’s Mass In Time of War, with student soloists, Sophia Price (OS…just!), Tianci Wang (PH L6), Ohin Cheng (O U6) and Ben Lloyd (Rb U6), who looked and sounded every inch the match for professional counterparts as they dovetailed with the Community and Chapel Choirs with crystal-clear solo and ensemble singing. Again, the scale, the ambition and the achievement were staggering.

 

This was another weekend of music-making that showcased the astounding richness of the musical vistas and opportunities JFM offers his young students. At least we can be grateful that for another two terms there’s plenty Moore yet.

JRFA
With thanks to Dr Richard Case for the photographs.

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