The conjunction of The Beast from the East and Storm Emma had led to the Pittville Pump Room Concert being rescheduled. The Music Department worked miracles to stage the concert in the School’s, Prince Michael Hall, a week later when at least some semblance of Spring had arrived. The programme was necessarily designed for Pittville’s acoustic space which allows for orchestral and choral as well as chamber and solo works. While Chamber music transfers to the PMH easily enough, accommodating a large audience and performing big orchestral pieces in there is more problematical.
The Orchestra opened the programme with Mendelssohn, Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream. The musicians seamlessly managed the harmonic transitions and various expositions, notably of dancing fairies and a braying Bottom with some excellent pizzicato and ‘hee-hawing’ Strings, through to the recapitulation and the Coda giving the fairies, as in the play, the final word. Sixth Form pupil, Jeff Gao, was the violin soloist accompanied by a reduced Orchestra in a charming performance of Beethoven, Romance in F. Soloist and Orchestra were as one in a performance of clearly articulated notation along with well-controlled phrasing and shaping.
Four Vocal pieces followed. First Close Harmony, under Louis Morford’s direction and with Hugo Till as soloist, sang Ben Sawyer’s arrangement of Greensleeves with its ‘modern’ take on harmony. Alix Atwick sang Orpheus with his lute (Coates) and Orlando Giannini, Go, Lovely Rose from the cycle of Five Songs by Quilter. Both Alix and Orlando are poised, confident singers with mature, rounded tones, to whom to listen is a real pleasure. Maddie Dunn was the third solo singer. A gifted singer, performer and communicator, Maddie made a convincing Despina in Una donna a quindici anni from Così Fan tutte. The soloists are so fortunate to be accompanied by such professional exponents of the art as Simon Bell and Helen Porter.
The conclusion to the first half was a wonderful performance by Jonny Woods (French Horn), Louis Morford (Violin) and Janice Ng (Piano) of the final movement of Brahms, Horn Trio in E flat major, a ground-breaking work of its time in both instrumentation and form. The musicians played with vibrant vitality: this really did have the ‘wow’ factor – three excellent musicians on top of their game, absolutely superb playing, and a great reaction from the audience.
The second half began with Schubert, Mass in G in its original score. Accompanied by Michael Stephen-Jones on the Chamber Organ and the Carducci Quartet. Chamber Choir, directed by Simon Bell, performed with precision, balance, phrasing and contrasts. The soloists, Maddie Dunn, Alix Atwick, Lucy Pickering, Louis Morford, Hugo Till, Matthew Moorhouse, and Oscar Richardson were all excellent, the trio in the Benedictus notable for its particularly fine diction and phrasing.
Hannah Woods (Flute), brother Jonny (now on the ‘Cello), Louis Morford (Violin) and Jeff Gao (now on the Viola) comprised an accomplished Quartet to perform the first movement Allegro from Flute Quartet No 1 in D major by Mozart. Hannah’s articulated runs were a joy as was the togetherness of the Quartet. This was followed by Dan Barrow, along with Simon Bell on the Chamber Organ and Sinfonia directed by Matt Denton, playing Purcell, Trumpet Sonata in D. Dan produces a bright tone so suited to Purcell and his was yet another fine and musical performance.
Sinfonia concluded the Spring Concert with a lively, celebratory rendition of St Paul’s Suite composed by one of Cheltenham’s most famous sons, Gustav Holst, for St Paul’s Girls School where he was director of Music. It was a fitting end to a remarkable concert.