Harrison White (1 of 2)-2The senior section of the competition, named after the late Jack Cook, was held on 20th November in the Clive Stevens Recital Hall, and the first piece (Vivaldi) was played sensitively by George Wilkinson (playing in two competitions in the same evening). However, neither he nor any violinist or ’cellist will be represented in the Helen Wareham final next term.  One of the reasons for this is that Ellen Dixon is concentrating on viola this term and the loss of her accomplished violin-playing was readily balanced by her discovery of a key composer for the thinner viola repertoire, Rebecca Clarke. Like Pinchas Zukerman, Ellen seems to become a true violist (rather than a condescending violinist lowering him or herself) on the huskier instrument. She played ‘Morpheus’ with poise and poignancy in, as adjudicator spokesperson Catherine Beddison observed, a true duo performance with Richard Saxel.

Cranleigh Music’s Head of Performance also had much to do in the ‘Grave’ from the prolific Alan Ridout’s 1970s double bass concerto. Indeed, the piece seemed to begin in the grave, with its low gravelly-toned opening, but Harrison White mastered this as impressively as he did the treacherous high harmonics at the end and the jazz-style pizzicati.  I hoped to hear this delightfully Hindemith-influenced piece again in the final, but I know Harrison is also considering other options. The audience were clearly delighted that the third finalist will be the first electric guitarist (though not the first guitarist) to appear in the Helen Wareham final. Alex Tracey self-effacingly introduced his piece by Lindsey Buckingham of ‘Fleetwood Mac’ (it was in 1993 that Buckingham performed the guitar-only version of the song, featuring the fingerpicking techniques that form the essential core of his playing style). Alex’s own fleet-fingered technique and variety of tone made a huge impression on the listeners, both young and old, and I hope this recognition that Alex is one of the finest musicians in the School (he played from memory) will mark a watershed of the rock musicians moving more readily from the ghetto of one annual event to mix more with the mainstream: it is, after all, 44 years now since Malcolm Arnold conducted the RPO with Deep Purple in Jon Lord’s concerto.

This was followed by the senior section of the competition named after the late Cyril Dashwood, although for the first piece the audience moved to the Chapel (a regular feature of such competitions back in the 1980s when even our own Phil Scriven came over to Cranleigh from Charterhouse for lessons with the legendary Charles MacDonald). Phil Scriven’s own pupil, Jakub Bartoszewski, gave us a dignified and imposing BWV 555 (Bach), the austerity matching the early winter chill in the building. The mood was changed to a warmer, sentimental one by Noah Frett in his semi-improvised Ellington number.  With both these musicians there was a sense that they really enjoyed playing the two fine instruments the School’s resources can provide, and both were put through to the final by the three adjudicators.

The third to win through was Karina Bondareva, who gave Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’, I felt, a larger scale performance than usual, anticipating ‘La Cathedrale Engloutie’ and reminding me of the debt Debussy owed to Mussorgsky. Again, the pianist relished the piano’s wide palette of tones and colours. The other performers will be named in the review in the next ‘Cranleighan’ magazine, but mention is deserved for the inventive improvisation of George Wilkinson (playing in two competitions in the same evening) in Kosma’s ‘Les Feuilles Mortes’.