The Summer Concert moves ever earlier as the examination season looms and this year it was on May 1st that the audience in the Speech Hall were treated to performances by Cranleigh’s five largest music ensembles. Also on the programme were the talented Wind Quintet in a somewhat dubious bossa nova-style arrangement of themes from three movements of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony but which allowed us to hear their dexterity and teamwork, at least. By contrast, the Symphony Orchestra, is a huge band, showing just how many talented musicians there are in all five years of the School: only a dozen adults were needed to bump up the forces who were led by Olivia Chesser. They opened the evening with the overture that Sullivan and his assistant Cellier concocted for the premier of ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, on Broadway, New York. Marcus Pashley brought a brisk, salty flavour to the tuttis and there were superb solos from Noah Frett (trumpet) and Fayruz Megdiche (oboe).
The orchestra also gave us six movements from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker Suite’: the ‘March’ set the tone with crisp brass and woody bassoons and in the ‘Sugar-plum Fairy’ there was a very accomplished celeste solo from young Ben Wili and fruity bass-clarinet roulades from George Wilkinson. The bassoons burbled superbly in the Chinese Dance and Ruth Williams’s eloquent flute solo was matched by the other flutes in the ‘Reed Pipes’ movement, of which Marcus Pashley gave an elegant reading, neither too fruity or, indeed, too nutty. Rare it is for a school to have both a gifted harpist and five horn players of the quality of Tim Ayling, Chris Paton, Ed Walshe, Eva Solt and James Thornton-Wood, so this suite was, perhaps, chosen with the ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ in mind. The horn quintet set a tone that was near professional and the tempi and phrasing just right, with the soulful violas and ’cellos especially impressive.
The Concert Band (some three dozen strong) gave us a cheerful version of ‘Amazing Grace’ and a ‘Sousa Spectacular’ that seemed to be a medley of his least greatest hits but which was given the usual élan by Bob Wilson. Even larger (around four dozen) was the Symphonic Wind Band who gave us, under Ruth Williams, ‘East Coast Pictures’ by Nigel Hess (whose music has been familiar to TV viewers since such classic themes as that to ‘Wycliffe’, and who is the great nephew of the legendary pianist Dame Myra). This was a finely rehearsed performance, culminating in an evocation of Manhattan with several apt Gershwin echoes and a fine trumpet solo from Noah Frett. Personally, I preferred the first two movements with another solo from Noah and hints of Dvorak’s New World symphony.
The String Orchestra (around 30 strong), under Kevin Weaver, gave us the famous ‘Air’ from Bach’s Third Suite at a properly flowing tempo and an authentic country fiddle sound in Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’. It was an especial pleasure to hear the viola line in the Bach sustained so clearly. As usual, the concert ended with the ‘feelgood factor’ of Bob’s Big Band: two dozen musicians (including a baker’s dozen of saxophonists) underpinned by the East House rhythm section. George Wilkinson, Harrison White and Harry Simmonds were joined by drummer Claudia Berry who rose assuredly to a very funky solo. ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ was followed by ‘All my Loving’ (if Ringo had not recently moved from Cranleigh to LA we might have invited him). We can always bank on ‘Sweet Caroline’ under Bob ‘diamond’ Wilson ending the evening in style but, perhaps with the Las Vegas big fight in the news, we were treated to a bold, brassy encore of the theme from ‘Rocky’.