Given the very high quality of all 15 performances from the 11 musicians in this year’s Helen Wareham final, it might seem a paradox to write that few, if any, of the listeners in the Speech Hall on Friday April 26th would have disagreed with the adjudicator’s first choices, but the five winners really were outstanding on the night. Distinguished music examiner and Head of Keyboard at Dulwich College, Timothy Barratt was clearly impressed with the standards of Cranleigh’s young musicians. He also made special mention of the pianism of Richard Saxel who accompanied 12 of the performances with his usual consummate and sympathetic musicianship. Director of Cranleigh Music, Marcus Pashley, also thanked the full-time and peripatetic music coaches who had inspired their charges, many of whom were in attendance: vocal coach Adrian Goss drove in all the way from Brighton to help Mikey Linford warm up for his winter wind song.
The vocal winner was Phoebe Bagge, who showed a natural gift for phrasing in her Sondheim number and is a born performer. The woodwind was, I suspect, the closest to call, but the prize went to Harry McCagherty for his Grovlez piece: a pure, yet still French, oboe tone beautifully sustained and a perky, balletic allegro. Tim Ayling shaped Franz Strauss’s horn ‘Notturno’ warmly and the adjudicator recognised fully the technical challenges of the composition. The piano prize went to Hebe Westcott, who had carefully prepared her Debussy ‘Estampe’ by practising regularly on the Speech Hall Steinway to explore its tonal colours. Though this is not the ideal instrument for French music, perhaps, Hebe found an ideal balance between the evocative impressionism of the opening music and the erupting contrasts that the instrument allows. To impress Mr Barratt in French music, who studied piano with the legendary Vlado Perlemuter in Paris, was an achievement indeed.
Harry also played Kapustin in the piano class and Hebe played Mozart on the trumpet but mention should also go to Ian Lee who played Brahms on the violoncello but contrasted this with a famous trombone party piece ‘The Acrobat’. Rachel, Nancy, Catherine, Ellen and Mikey will be praised in my full review in ‘The Cranleighan’ but I will end with the strings winner, Ben Rudolf. Ben gave us the big opening movement of the D minor violin sonata by Brahms, playing with authority, passionate intensity, beauty of tone and generous vibrato where appropriate. For many years this competition found a single winner: in one year it was IVth Form treble Tom Hedley, who now works at Cranleigh Prep School. If we were to try to decide between the five winners of 2013, it might be impossible just on their winning performances, but, given that Ben also played the first movement of Bach’s ‘Italian Concerto’ very stylishly and with striking subtlety, he at least deserves to be the last mentioned of this First XI of current Cranleigh musicians.
If you missed this evening and, unlike myself, own the required formal dress for the black tie ‘Encore’ evening on May 17th, I urge you to get a ticket.