Independence Day at Cranleigh saw a celebration of just the opposite: collaboration in music-making of high quality, in the Merriman Music School. As well as a small number of Cranleigh Preparatory School pupils joining the chamber ensembles, it was an evening where teachers and pupils performed as equals. This was seen in the very first piece, one of Haydn’s many piano trios, in which Ellen Dixon and Emily Hill were joined by Dr Marie Ward: a highlight was the minuet with its phrases played with an echo effect. Ellen later led a trio with her sister on the ’cello in a stylishly ‘palm court’ version of Kreisler’s ‘Liebesleid’. Emma Wallis and Olivia Moxey blended beautifully in a sustained andante and a dashing rondo by Doppler for two flutes.
Rossini wrote his string sonatas for the unusual ensemble of two violins, ’cello and double bass (the excellent Harrison White underpinning this rendering) and did so when he was younger (12) than any of the Cranleigh performers: Soyoung Choi, Olivia Chesser and Ian Lee. The pieces were lost until Casella found them in Washington in the 1940s and these young performers reminded us that the composer’s horror for these sins of his young age was misplaced; its kittenish qualities were well-served. Two of the finest musicians Cranleigh has had in recent, or, indeed, any years, Chloё Allison and Tom Hollister, gave us some rare music by the Venezuelan-born French composer, Reynaldo Hahn. His ‘Trois Preludes sur des airs Irlandais’ for piano duet were given with lyrical tenderness, subtlety and a real depth of emotion.
An eight-strong flute choir were supported by Tom on drums (and train whistle) and the sound effects were very effective in supporting the arrangement of ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’. The first half came to a rousing end with a movement from a Konzertstück for 4 horns by the Dresden hornist Heinrich Hübler (and inspired by the famous piece for the same forces by Schumann). Few schools could boast a quartet to match Tim Ayling, Chris Paton, Eva Solt and Ed Walshe: the unison sound was stirringly forthright, the musicianship superb.
The gentler art of the string quartet brought Ben Rudolf, Izzie Simpkin and Rachel Hurst to join Ian Lee in a movement from Haydn’s op 64: the humour played dead-pan and the ensemble well-blended. Eight musicians combined to give us clarinet versions of Irving Berlin (in snake-charmer mode) and Mancini (like five Acker Bilks) and oboists Harry McCagherty and Elinor Morgan gave us a stunning movement by Albinoni: musically blended yet individually characteristic in tone.
The finale was a selection from Brahms’s irresistible ‘Liebeslieder Walzer’ with 21 singers from ‘Cranleigh Voices’ (and a gap of around 47 years from the youngest to the oldest). They were accompanied by seven pianists (RJS, MW, MCP and PNS with Hebe Westcott, Harry McCagherty and Ben Rudolf) forming six duet combinations. This was no master and pupil exercise: of all the pianists perhaps Hebe Westcott is the most natural of Brahmsians and her opening numbers with Richard Saxel set the bar high. The singers made a dynamic impact in the more masculine numbers but the tenors had the necessary Gemutlichkeit for my favourite section (‘Ein kleiner, hübscher Vogel nahm den Flug’).
It is a remarkable tribute to the large body of Cranleigh’s music teachers that a concert of such variety, sheer quality and length (7.30 to 9.35pm) could be organised at the end of the examination season (only two days after I invigilated the final internal examination paper of the year, in fact). It was welcome news that this new fixture in the concert calendar is set to become a regular one.