This year’s senior section of the Brass Competition was held in the MMS on 6th November as a double bill with performers in the Pat Dixon Woodwind Competition. Seven of the School’s finest brass players entertained the audience with a well-balanced concert. There were four trumpeters, though Oliver Parker played a Loeillet sarabande and gigue that (one assumes with this composer) was probably composed for flute. This might have helped Oliver refine his tone for the slightly cramped acoustics of the Clive Stevens Recital Hall so that the effect was rather dignified. Callum Kent had, by contrast, a very angular and tricky piece to handle: Larsson’s ‘Concertino’. His crisp articulation rightly impressed the three judges. Harrison White found the combination of lyricism and assertiveness needed for a piece by the distinguished French military cornet player Guillaume Balay. Variety came in the tone of Ben Mills’ flugel horn in the ‘Lament’ by Norton that we often hear on these occasions, and he caught the piece’s story-telling qualities.
The trumpeter whom the adjudicators put through to the Lent Term Helen Wareham final was Noah Frett, who played the Brazilian composer Abreu’s famous 1917 choro ‘Tico Tico’ brightly and breezily. Tim Ayling rose to the challenge of a central piece in the horn concerto repertoire, by the Russian composer Glière. The slow movement he gave us requires huge breath control for sustained long notes and Tim combined a beautifully burnished tone with just a touch of authentically old-fashioned Russian horn vibrato. The hand-stopped notes were really atmospheric and haunting. Above all, Tim is a performer who seems to enjoy showing his awareness of the audience and sharing his love of music with us.
The continued tradition of truly outstanding horn teachers at Cranleigh was clear in that two horn players won through to the final. Not that long ago our players were taught by the legendary Dougie Moore, who played Britten’s ‘Serenade’ under the composer, played in the Philharmonia under Klemperer and was the principal horn professor at the RCM. The fruits of this tradition were heard in Chris Paton’s warm, mellow and sustained tone in the beautiful ‘Berceuse’ (1951) by Jean-Michel Damase, who died earlier in 2013 at the age of 85. Damase was perhaps our last link with the great generation of French composers such as Poulenc and Ravel. Some readers may be interested to know that he was commissioned by the cultured Australian, Barry Humphries, to write music for his wedding. I, for one, will certainly be delighted if Chris chooses to play this again in March.
It was then the turn of the wind players to entertain the audience with another well-balanced concert programme and, as the adjudicators’ spokesperson, Catherine Beddison, observed, more than three of these would have been well worth a place in the Lent Term Helen Wareham final. George Wilkinson brought a charming delicacy to a Crusell rondo and flautist Charlotte Tristem a delicate purity to Bach’s sonata. Tim Ayling also played a Bach sonata movement, but on the recorder, bringing a feel for baroque style to his subtle musicianship.
The three who went on to the March final all played different instruments. Cathy Hobbs gave us three parts of ‘The Elements’ by the oboist (sic) Robert Hinchcliffe, which was an effective way to display her virtuosity as well as the sheer beauty of tone she can produce on the flute. I certainly want to hear what ‘Air’ sounds like now. Emily Hill played with astonishing accuracy, rising to the considerable challenge of the last movement of Malcom Arnold’s clarinet ‘Sonatina’. She found an aptly ‘dirty’ and raucous tone for the opening and the fingerwork was dazzlingly accurate. This was a real duo with pianist Richard Saxel, who had another long evening’s work, ending with Nigel Wood’s ‘Schwarzer Tänzer’, written for Christopher Boatwright, whose career began as a principal dancer with the Stuttgart Ballet, one of the first black dancers to achieve recognition at this level in Germany. Sadly he died before it could be choreographed, but the composer’s Germanic fusion of Kurt Weill and oompah band made an effective competition piece for Hattie Allison on alto saxophone. This was a very confident and darkly soulful performance to end the evening on a real high-spot.