After just a few days at school this term, it was astonishing that the 18 Junior Music Scholars could give such assured and polished performances on September 19th in the MMS. Highlights among the Vth Form performers included beautiful Schumann playing from clarinettists Lizzy Paton and Ellen Talbot; classy recorder playing from Bethany Porter; eloquent sax playing (the adorable ‘Aria’  by Bozza) from Daniel Evans; and ’cellist Deescha Chandrasma’s understated melancholy in Rachmaninov’s ‘Vocalise’.
The new pupils more than held their own, with yet another very fine horn player, James Thornton-Wood, enjoying the contrasts in the cod-Irish ‘En Irlande’ (1951) by Bozza. His command of the muted stopped effects and the echo phrases were matched by the contrastingly extrovert playing in the final jig. Millie Mazzone earned a loud ovation for her very accomplished interpretation of the rondo from Beethoven’s ‘Pathetique’ sonata, conveying its mood of melancholy determination, and giving great power to the big chords after the first theme as well as a masculine strength to the ending.
The audience was swelled by friends of the North boys in the second half, sitting open-eared on the steps, as all seats were taken. They were rewarded with the fluent and idiomatic guitar playing of Louis Jenkin, giving his traditional melody ‘Salvador’ a subtle and delicate rubato. I can only recall two other classical guitarists of his talent in the last 35 years of Cranleigh concerts. Sophie Howard continued the Spanish mood (albeit from a German composer) with the best-known of Moszkowski’s ‘Spanish Dances’ in a charming and confident performance with plenty of variety in tone and colour.
Reuben Gray gave a memorable performance of Frank Bridge’s sketch ‘Rosemary’ (1906 and orchestrated 1936). His playing was strikingly sensitive and mature, conveying the music’s delicate nuances. The evening ended with a magisterial reading, from memory, of Schubert’s popular ‘Impromptu op 90 no 3’ by Benjamin Wili. The opening arabesques are notoriously tricky to articulate clearly and I found his pointed shaping, with a lift at the end of the phrase, more imaginative than many a professional pianist’s. He rose to the challenge of a daringly swift tempo with consummate dexterity and gave the middle section a contrastingly dark mystery. This was Schubert as if played by Rachmaninov, rather than the bland paleness one often hears. It was a wonderful way to end a special evening.
As always, the expert accompanists/duettists, Dr Marie Ward, Phillip Scriven and Richard Saxel not only gave confidence and support to the young musicians, but also reminded the audience that behind these performances there were hours of inspiring music teaching, as well as even more hours of practice.