The final performance round of the competition featured 23 singers in the Recital Hall on Friday 8th March. An especial pleasure this year was that pianists Richard Saxel and Philip Scriven were joined by vocal coach Adrian Goss, whose playing of Quilter, especially, was a delight. Several other singing teachers joined the audience of parents, staff and pupils, with some of the senior competitors having strong vocal support (pun intended).
I was in total agreement with the top three in the Junior section though not necessarily (as Eric Morecambe famously, nearly, said) in the same order. Third was Toby Chesser for a stunningly idiomatic Lully song, a wonderful treble voice. Second was the opera enthusiast Theo Golden, a maturing tenor, who relished his Donizetti aria and communicated very strongly. Tim Ayling sang last but came first, with one of my father’s favourite songs: ‘On the streets where you live’. We have often heard good accounts of numbers from musicals in this part of town and at its best (adjudicator Marcus Pashley acknowledged it was not unflawed) this was a towering reading. There is space only to mention three other performances I especially enjoyed: Victoria Parker for her sincerity (‘Once you lose your heart’); treble Jack Taylor for a delightfully old-fashioned performance of a delightfully old-fashioned song by Haydn Wood; and Olivia Chesser for clasping to her heart one of the great English songs, ‘Silent Noon’ by Vaughan Williams.
The adjudicators were unanimous over which three seniors should qualify for the final competition, though I should like to mention Rachel Hurst’s superb Berlioz singing (‘Villanelle’) and Terri Yoon’s mature and powerful Mozart (‘Dove sono’). I cannot subscribe to the view that the name Sondheim can be mentioned in the same breath as those composers but Phoebe Bagge’s voice has so stunning an impact that I could almost believe this is real music rather than heightened dramatic speech. Mikey Linford brought out the contrasts in Quilter’s famous ‘Blow, blow thou winter wind’, a fine voice, and the third to progress was Nancy Newberry as Mozart’s Despina, projecting the Italian superbly and sharply delineating the character. The School’s music-lovers now look forward to re-hearing the qualifiers in April’s final, yet this relish is mixed with the reality that we have so many fine musicians at Cranleigh now who will not even be heard on the night, though for some of them, there is always 2014.