As often the Cranleigh School Christmas concert took place in November (29th), albeit only three days before Advent Sunday. Thus, apart from the interval mulled wine and mince pies furnished by the ever-busy Catering Department, the only festive-themed piece was the Wind Quintet’s ‘Christmas Jazz Suite’. The other five ensembles were all much larger, with a Symphonic Wind Band of over 40 players playing the 1984 suite (originally for brass band) ‘The Year of the Dragon’ by Philip Sparke under Ruth Williams to start the evening. This challenging piece lay just within the compass of the young (and older!) musicians, though intense rehearsal and intenser concentration were needed to bring it off a successfully as they did.
The String Orchestra under Kevin Weaver was similar in number and impressed especially in the middle (‘Lovely Joan’) section of the familiar Vaughan Williams Greensleeves Fantasia. Regular readers will expect my usual snobbish reaction to the choice of ‘Palladio’ by ex prog-rocker Karl Jenkins (shades of Rondo Veneziano): even a fellow member of Soft Machine called Jenkins ‘third-rate’. But in terms of allowing the younger string players to perform confidently, this vigorously directed rendition of the first movement (originally composed for TV advertisements for De beer diamonds) was very effective and also afforded leader Ellen Dixon some impressive solo bars.
The soloist in the Concert Band’s Leroy Anderson piece was rightly given a solo bow by conductor Bob Wilson, and Christian Oldfield’s fluent and relaxed trumpet playing was supported by the band being supplemented with violins. I thoroughly enjoyed, also, the Osterling arrangement of three Beatles hits of yesterday: comforting music after a hard day wearing the face I keep in a jar by the classroom door.
Kevin Weaver also conducted the Symphony Orchestra this year and, despite the recent loss of some fine players, the sound in the ‘Little Suite’ by Malcolm Arnold was rich and flexible. The Dance, especially, caught the nostalgic bitter-sweet idiolect of this fine composer. Impressive, also, was the rich and well-tuned opening of Schubert’s eighth symphony (or seventh, if you are German) as played by three basses and five violoncellos. The wind were nicely rustic in the main theme (‘einsam, ich bin so einsam’) and the conductor did not over-indulge the second subject (‘this is the symphonee [sic] that Schubert wrote, and never finished’). Talking to the players afterwards, they seemed relieved that the exposition repeat was omitted, as many were playing in several ensembles on the evening.
As ever, the Big Band sent us flying home in high spirits (though the exotic booze was served in the Common Room bar rather than far Bombay) and genial Bob Wilson brought out the best in his musicians, with help of the underpinning of the East House rhythm quartet, not least in soloist Oli Parker. But I cannot take way the fact that the loudest applause of the evening was for vocalist Phoebe Bagge singing Gershwin with exemplary microphone technique and vocal heft. The exotic booze theme continued with the final number: ‘Tequila’. Not very Christmassy (or even Novembery), but great fun.