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Exuberant Orchestral ABC

Orchestral ABC showcased works by Albinoni, Britten, Beethoven and Copland in a performance by the School’s Chamber and Symphony Orchestras. Beginning the programme was Vivaldi’s Concerto for two violins in A minor, a work which, though not in keeping with the evening’s alphabetical theme, balanced nicely with what followed from a stylistic point of view. This piece offered substantial solo roles to Daisy (who played in two out of three movements), Carson, Evie, Natasha and the maestro himself, Mr Cropper. The pupils played out confidently, whilst being sensitive of each other’s parts in the melodic overlapping typical of the Italian concerto style. In addition to some commendable individual performances, the quality of the tutti violin sound in tone and intonation was especially pleasing, as well as the attention to articulation given by the 'cello section.

Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor saw a debut ensemble opportunity for one of the school’s young organists, Ben (Form 6). Based on a supposedly baroque melodic fragment, this piece was realised as a work for organ and strings (in a style too luscious to be labelled anything but Romantic) by the Albinoni biographer Remo Giazotto. The sense of ensemble and balance between the organ and strings was seamless and was a credit to Ben’s rhythmic diligence and understanding of the piece and its expressive moments, where solo violinist Bethany (Form 6) played some sumptuous drawn-out cadenzas. In the final section, the piece’s baroque guise was cast aside for a style much more akin to Verdi, with full-blooded vibrato strings and the roar of the organ’s swell reeds at the climax before a carefully graded diminuendo to the end with a final climbing solo from Bethany.

Britten’s Simple Symphony may well be simple in form and give us insight to the abilities of its composer at the tender age of 12 but its name is no reflection on the technical demands of the movements, which were revised and compiled by the composer, aged 20. The Boisterous Bourée demanded a keen sense of phrasing and confident melodic playing from all parts of the ensemble – a valuable experience for all violists! The Sentimental Sarabande gave a calm respite with melodic dialogue between viola and ‘cello before the Frolicsome Finale with its dramatic use of silences and driving, syncopated rhythms.

Symphony Orchestra began with the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral), a piece that resides amongst a select group of pieces that have had enduring popularity since their premiere. Pleasingly, the members of Symphony Orchestra managed to overcome some initial nerves to capture the exuberance of the ‘arrival in the countryside’, no mean feat given the challenging nature of the work. Mr Williams on the podium exuded a combination of pride, calm and drive that the first movement requires. Most pleasingly, the violin section (whose parts are unrelenting throughout the movement) displayed technical assurance and confidence from the leader right through the ranks, showing an attitude that will allow the ensemble to go from strength to strength as they revisit Beethoven again in the year marking the 250th anniversary of his birth.

Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland was arguably the standout item in this concert, being a substantial work with many challenges from beginning to end. Copland always keeps varying the scoring and so many parts of the ensemble come in and out of the foreground. Its changes in mood, tonality, moving from the expansive extended chords that became synonymous with the ‘American sound’ and borrowing of melodies such as Simple Gifts to invoke a sense of American patriotism. What was striking was a sense that pupils were ready for whatever followed; under Mr Davis’s direction, the ensemble had really grasped the complexities of the work. The concert ended with a stirring rendition of Hoedown, taken from the ballet Rodeo. Here we saw a trumpet solo from Freddie (Form 7) and, following an unprecedented technical hitch with Bethany’s violin, a last-ditch violin solo from Holly (Form 6), who took it entirely in her stride. This lively and hugely enjoyable performance rounded off an evening of high quality music-making of which all participants and supporters can be very proud.

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