The Jack Cook Senior Strings performance on November 7th contained one of the most perfect performances I have heard in 35 years of Cranleigh concerts, or, indeed, 42 years of live concerts anywhere in the world. This was bassist Harrison White’s memorised rendition of Fauré’s song ‘Après un Rêve’, often played on the violoncello in arrangements by Casals and others. The poem for this song was dismissed by Proust as execrable, thus an instrumental version works especially well. Unfettered by a music-stand, Harrison was seen listening to and watching his double-bass as if it were a dance partner. In the second statement of the beautiful theme I suspect a blind-folded listener would have heard a ’cello, so lyrical was the playing with a beautiful glissando (“hélas”) but even in the opening it was as if the finest French bass (a Roger Soyer, for example) were singing.
The other two to go forward from the Recital Room to the Speech Hall for the final were violinists. Olivia Chesser impressed all in a confidently bowed performance of Leclair: she kept the double-stopped notes remarkably in tune. Soyoung Choi played ‘Resignation’ by Charles Dancla and restrained her vibrato in a poised reading. Cellists Emily Hill and Abby Frett gave us lilting and subtle Tchaikovsky (some genuine pianissimo) and a flowing, resonant ‘Tarantella’ (WH Squire), respectively. Eleanor McAleese-Park played part of Vivaldi’s ‘L’Estro Armonico’ rather better than when I last heard it, from a busker in Sheffield, and with a determined gait. And a special delight was to hear the irresistible Hungarian Dance no 5 by Brahms in a spirited salon-style rendition by Matt Ludlow, Philip Scriven adding a touch of cimbalom colour to the piano accompaniment. He and Richard Saxel provided true duo playing, despite limited rehearsal time.
The senior Dashwood Piano performance took place on the same evening and began in Chapel with Jakub Bartoshevski playing Bach’s Fantasia in G minor, relishing the quasi-improvisatory opening, using the acoustic to clarify the structure. This was playing of real authority. Jakub and the following two pianists were the three who won through to the final. It was interesting to see Jakub’s obvious pleasure in hearing Chopin played with such aching nostalgia by Fayruz Megdiche. She played a famous nocturne with a concentration that began in the focused silence before she touched the keyboard and which captured the range of emotions in the central section, enhanced by clear pedalling. Alice Simmonds played a beautiful Scriabin prelude with limpid delicacy and a superb sense of timing: she created a special sound world, finding a gentle tone in the Recital Room piano that eludes some players.
But the other four musicians were fully worthy of their places, not least Olivia Chesser, who also played Chopin: a glitteringly brilliant waltz, articulated with total command and played from memory. More Scriabin prelude came from Abby Frett, who conveyed the romantic idiom through a gentle rubato. Soyoung Choi used a variety of articulation for the many moods of her Debussy piece and George Wilkinson not only played from memory, but learned by ear a film theme by the respected composer Craig Armstrong: only a fine musician can make a piece sound better than it actually is and he relished the dynamic range of the piano.