The brass competition was moved this year to the lunchtime slot to prevent the scheduled evening double performance from going on well past ten thirty. Great credit goes to these ten young players for performing straight after five morning lessons with Louis Jenkin getting us off to a fine start in a very exposed trumpet arrangement. Variety was provided by tuba and euphonium players and all were accompanied by either Philip Scriven or Marie Ward.
There were two fine horn players (the versatile Harry Simmonds played William Lloyd Webber) and James Thornton-Wood who took third prize with a rondo by Arnold Cooke (unmistakably a pupil of Hindemith) in which his flexibility and thoughtful phrasing softened the relentless rhythms. The multi-talented Ben Wili began his Burgon toccata bold as brass and here was a trumpeter who began a phrase knowing where it was leading, giving the listeners total confidence in his musicality and taking a well deserved second place. Top prize went to Christian Oldfield who played ‘Oxford Circus’ by Malcolm Bennett as if aware how near Selfridge’s is to Soho: blowsy or sleek where required. His playing with the mute was especially effective but there was nothing muted about the applause for this final and winning performance. Adjudicator Richard Saxel delivered his verdict with very helpful advice and admirable concision.
The great Pat Dixon would have been delighted to hear so many young wind players of such talent competing in the competition that bears his name. With 18 musicians playing, I am unable to praise all the individual performances here but, as well as the winners, I will mention a few whose playing I especially enjoyed, such as the insouciant sax of Daniel Evans; the liquid legato of Toby Chesser’s clarinet and the flowing decorative melodiousness of Josh Wilson-Khanna’s flute. Clarinettist Katherine Carr truly understood and conveyed the aching nostalgia of Poulenc and Harry Simmonds gave a dead-pan humour to his Balogh saxophone piece. As a Francophile melomane I especially enjoyed two more flautists: Gaubert’s ‘Madrigal’ from James Walker and the meandering, haunting atmosphere of Lili Boulanger’s ‘Nocturne’ from Saskia Hogan. Few schools, if any, have a flute teacher to match Ruth Williams, Head of Woodwind, who introduced the evening.
Adjudicators Catherine Beddison and David Futcher were unanimous over the top three performances and third prize went to Bethany Porter on descant recorder playing Sammartini with subtle light and shade, pianist Marie Ward discreetly scaling down the Yamaha. Second prize went to the sole bassoonist, Ellie Williamson, playing a Mozart sonata arrangement (of the duo for bassoon and violoncello, now thought not to be genuine Mozart). With Philip Scriven on piano, Ellie played with subtle fluency and very dextrous fingerwork. Top prize went to Emma Grainger, who, with Richard Saxel giving true gravity to the keyboard writing in the noble central section, gave a remarkably mature reading of the opening of one of the Brahms clarinet sonatas. This was a truly ‘amabile’ performance showing a deep and sophisticated response to the music and its dynamic contrasts. Pat would have loved it.