The concert given by the Merriman Concert Orchestra on Friday night provided a platform for two Music Scholars, Emma Grainger (clarinet) and Jonny Marsh (horn) to perform concerti, as well as offering the audience an opportunity to hear Wagner’s beautiful Siegfried Idyll, and Beethoven’s bucolic ‘Pastoral’ Symphony.
It is easy to underestimate the demands of preparing a concerto; it requires an advanced and assured technique, complete control over the musical interpretation allied to spontaneity when required, and an ability to remain calm whilst performing with a professional orchestra (often for the first time in a fledgling career) and in front of a sizeable audience. Whilst much of the work is done in advance, there are always new challenges on the day, and both soloists rose to the occasion admirably.
Emma’s Concertino for Clarinet by Weber was beautifully refined and elegant. Her intuitive understanding of the expressive phrasing, coupled with a genuine sense of fun in the virtuosic passages enabled a mature performance full of charm and humour in equal measure. Her tone was well-controlled throughout; dark and rich in the lower register, but light and sweet as she handled the considerable demands of the faster passages with an ease that Weber would surely have admired.
Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll (a birthday present for his wife, Cosima) was given a hushed reading under the baton of Marcus Pashley, who brought out the more complex rhythms in the woodwind section with clarity and precision. The Chapel acoustic was perfect for this piece; atmospheric and allowing the string section under long-standing leader Kevin Weaver to project beautifully, even in the softest passages.
Franz Strauss was a notoriously difficult composer to work with, but even he would surely have admired the debonair performance given by Jonny Marsh of the Horn Concerto in C minor. Jonny brought a refined and stylish approach to the work, avoiding the temptation to overstate. In showcasing the particularly warm quality of his tone across all areas of the instrument, his mature understanding of musical phrasing and secure intonation throughout, he allowed the music to speak for itself, which is a sign of real musical maturity. Unafraid to lead the drama when required, Jonny has the rare ability to play with an orchestra and listen to them, knowing when to take the lead, and when to become part of the texture. His duets with the beautiful flute-playing of Ruth Williams (Director of Music at Cranleigh Prep School) were particularly memorable.
The second half featured Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony, given a particularly charming account in which the hushed simplicity and introspective nature of the work was immediately apparent. The clarinet and horn melody that heralds the famous Shepherd’s Song of the final movement was as good as I have heard it, and this reading was a reminder for the attentive audience that these symphonies are lifelong companions for those who enjoy classical music.