Review by James Fraser-Andrews, with photos by Dr Richard Case and film footage by David Clifford
All manner of Salopians - old, new, departing and in two cases pre-Salopians receiving their first taste of Shrewsbury music-making – showcased orchestral, wind, string and choral masterpieces at Cadogan Hall, one of the capital’s foremost centres of artistic excellence. And what a show it was – and what excellence.
Not that there weren't logistical hiccoughs en route, but as it took the beastly forces of a Siberian weather front to derail last year’s Birmingham concert, a minor incident like a blowout on the M40 was never going to hold up this unstoppable orchestral roadshow for long. Fortunately all the timps, double basses, celli and other essential bulk items arrived just in time to be put to work in an evening that gave Shrewsbury’s musicians the stage they deserve.
Old Salopian Henry Kennedy first put the Symphony Orchestra through their paces in the Festive Overture that took him at his word – a jollier Shostakovich you could not imagine, as the young tyro coaxed out rhythmic snap and sprightliness with real musical panache.
Then Upper Sixth Former Matthew Poon stepped up to deliver a performance of astonishing sweetness, capturing a combination of tristesse and articulate string playing that ensured Bruch’s violin concerto one of the highlights of the programme. The orchestra played the perfect sympathetic foil to his virtuosic fireworks, with John Moore firmly yet emolliently in charge. The Adagio, with its slow waltz in which Matthew spun the horn of Charlie Hancock and Joyce Li’s flute expertly around an ethereal ballroom was exquisite.
Henri Cramsie was the next soloist on the podium in Bellini’s Concerto for Oboe – a impressively tough blow for someone who, as the current in-demand school DJ, was only hours before spinning rather different tunes at the Churchill's house dance. Bravi!
The Wind Orchestra under Maria McKenzie brought the curtain down with impeccably produced Americana, Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and John Adams' bracingly hectic Short Ride in a Fast Machine. This last item certainly delivered what it said on the tin, with Tobias Libreros positively balletic on the percussion desk - dropping not a beat - in this complex celebration of whipsmart brass and thrilling, motoric rhythm.
Alex Mason’s Chamber Choir opened the second half in a more reflective mood with a pair of 20th century motets. Tabitha Winkley shone with bright tunefulness as soprano soloist in Standford’s The Bluebird, and Lauridsen’s atmospheric Sure on This Shining Night was nimbly supported by Arthur Hope Barton on piano.
With the assembled talents of the String Ensemble, David Joyce captured a wonderfully filmic soundscape and intimate timbre with Serenade for Strings by William Lloyd-Webber (father of Andrew and Julian), before John Moore stepped back into the spotlight for the closing Beethoven First Symphony and Danzón No. 2 by Mexican Arturo Márquez.
The first was a masterclass in shapeliness, ensemble listening and Haydn-esque poise, where elegant fury was never far from the surface. Such is the versatility that Mr Moore can call on, however, that the Márquez was a tour de force in equal yet wholly different measures. First heard at the Proms by the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra in 2007, this effusion of Latin spirit brought the house down then and did so again on Sunday as a finale of infectious enjoyment that filled the hall, channelled through one man. Here were a group of young musicians who were quite visibly at that moment having the time of their lives thanks to him. (And captured on film by David Clifford - see below.)
Bravo, John Moore, for an evening of indelible musicianship that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any other London performance that weekend; it was that towering, it was that world-class – and what a fitting way to bid adiós to the Cadogan.
But, as the man himself said in his closing remarks, he is only part of a continuum of talent and genius – step away, and it will still roll on. Shrewsbury’s jewel in the crown shines yet.
Here's the show-stopping final piece 'Danzón No. 2', performed by the Symphony Orchestra: