City of London Schools Spring Concert – Rossini’s Stabat Mater – Charlotte Barbour-Condini plays Sammartini & Zizhou Zhang plays Shostakovich

Giuseppe Sammartini
Recorder Concerto in F, Op.33
Piano Concerto No.2 in F, Op.102
Stabat Mater [arr. Stephen Disley]

Charlotte Barbour-Condini (soprano recorder)
City of London School for Girls Orchestra
Una Murphy [Sammartini]

Zizhou Zhang (piano)
City of London School Orchestra
Paul Harrison [Shostakovich]

Holly Brown & Rachel Newell (sopranos), John English (tenor), Ivo Almond & Ashley Waters (basses)
Joint City of London Schools Choir
Stephen Disley (organ)
Paul Harrison

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 19 March, 2013
Venue: Great Hall, City of London School, London EC4

The City of London School Orchestra. Photograph: Edward G. JonesShowcasing two of the best musicians from the City of London School and the City of London School for Girls, as well as a well-drilled combined choir, this concert made for an uplifting occasion. Heartening, too, to appreciate that the school-age performers are serious about producing music of the highest quality.

In the Recorder Concerto of Giuseppe Sammartini – a superb oboist, member of Handel’s orchestras, older brother of equally-prodigious composer Giovanni, and London domiciled – Charlotte Barbour-Condini (successful in BBC Young Musician 2012) rose to the work’s vigorous, lyrical and virtuosic writing. She produced beautiful tones that enraptured with birdsong sounds. The orchestra invested much charm and grace, though occasionally submerged Barbour-Condini’s delicate playing in the ‘Siciliano’ middle movement. With plenty of unforced momentum for the finale, the performance ended in triumph.

The challenges of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto were well within the talents of Zizhou Zhang (aged 17), and he brought from the Steinway a character-fuelled performance, indulging the outer movements’ jolliness and jokiness, and the central Andante’s melancholy. His clarity, subtle dynamics, technical proficiency and being at-one with the orchestra, were impressive. The orchestra took a little time to settle, but the side drum interjection from Jonah Summerfield marshalled all for playing that was refined and assured. Woodwind contributions made their mark, from flautist Henry Dummet, the clarinet playing of Daniel Hannam and Henry Davidson, and, especially, the plangent bassoon of Edmund Phillips.

There followed a compelling account of Rossini’s Stabat Mater, here with organ accompaniment by Stephen Disley (on the CLS’s hearty J. W. Walker & Sons instrument). At short notice, John English replaced the two advertised tenors of Harry Bradford and Johan de Silva. Apparent immediately was how honed this huge choir was: ensemble was crisp, voice types were well delineated, and a tuneful performance emerged. The Schools’ soloists included the standout Holly Brown, thrilling with her soaring soprano with the Choir at full-throttle during the ‘Inflammatus’. Ivo Almond seduced with his high-lying bass in ‘Pro peccatis’. The closing sections, ‘Quando corpus morietur’ (a cappella), and ‘In sempiterna saeculam, Amen’, uplifted and inspired: in Rossini’s very Italianate way, the mix of fun and religiosity enriched all. Paul Harrison’s clear direction produced the goods in spades.

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