The combined forces of Cranleigh School’s Chapel Choir and the village’s Cranleigh Choral Society joined in the Devonport Speech Hall to produce as confident a sound as I can remember in the joint annual concert. Great credit goes to conductor Marcus Pashley for achieving this in fewer rehearsals than usual, owing to the early date of 8th February. The tenor line, often a weaker section in amateur choirs, rang out roundly in Rutter’s ‘Magnificat’ and cut through the texture thrillingly in Poulenc’s wonderful ‘Gloria’. The blend of young voices with more experienced singers is a regular feature of this annual collaboration of School and village, which this year marks the 80th anniversary of a joint concert conducted by the Cranleigh School Director of Music.
The quality of the Merriman Concert Orchestra has also never been higher and now includes many ‘home team’ members as well as our regular guest musicians. Few performances of Ravel’s ‘Ma Mere L’Oye’ suite (the curtain-raiser) can boast a Beauty as eloquent as violinist Kevin Weaver, a transformed Beast as subtly musical as ’cellist Andrew Fuller, or a flautist as fine as Ruth Williams. Nor do orchestral celeste players normally have the pedigree of pianist Richard Saxel. Returning as soprano soloist was international artist Helen-Jane Howells, who was ideally suited to the ‘Domine Deus’ in the Poulenc as well as filling the listeners with good tunes in three movements of the Magnificat. The stamina of singers young and old was tested by a long evening but there was plenty of tone left for the final ‘Amen’.
Among many highlights of the concert were the ineffable beauty of the string tone, enhanced by the perfect pacing by Mr Pashley, as Ravel led us into his ‘Enchanted Garden’ and the idiomatic liveliness of the chorus in Poulenc’s ‘Laudamus Te’. Marcus Pashley ensured here also that the clarinets cheekily evoked the composer’s famous description of his inspiration from “those Crozzoli frescoes with angels sticking out their tongues, and also some solemn-looking Benedictine monks that I saw playing football one day”.
Especial thanks should also go to the Domestic Services Department for not only setting up the hall but also for turning it into an examination hall by nine hours after the end of the concert.