Hamba Lulu [arr. Mike Brewer]
Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened
Three Czech Part Songs
Boogie Stop Shuffle
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64 [First Movement]
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85 [First Movement]Vaughan Williams
The Wasps Overture
Mussorgsky, arr. Rimsky-Korsakov
Wilde Concert Suite
Four Part Choir
Rebecca Sewell (violin)
Flora Cooke (cello)
Director of Junior Trinity: Marion Friend
Reviewed by: Edward Lewis
Reviewed: 18 March, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
Trinity College of Music was the first of the British music colleges to create a Junior Department. 2006 marks the centenary of its founding when specialist music education was provided for twenty talented children. Today, with 230 students and a platoon of highly experienced, versatile and enthusiastic staff, Junior Trinity continues to nurture, instruct and encourage tomorrow’s musicians, providing an invaluable resource and environment for children to develop skills essential to their future music-making.
I feel I must highlight at this point, sadly, that Trinity is not offering me financial incentives, stays in Parisian hotels or a seat in the Lords for saying this. (Despite my asking.) Without treading too heavily on the tender lawn of politics, music education is often a matter of chance – many successful young musicians of today often cite the Herculean efforts of a particular teacher, or the Dickensian sacrifices of parents, as being the lynchpin on which their musical success is hung. Rarely do we hear of talented musicians succeeding despite a patchy, under-funded music department with poor teachers.
Most of the time, these children do not succeed, their talents wane and are wasted, and they become recruitment consultants. Probably recruiting more recruitment consultants.
Attending this celebratory concert by the various ensembles drawn from Junior Trinity’s current students underlined how much of this young talent would be potentially wasted without such institutions. Because highly talented they are, and very much the musicians of today as well as tomorrow, and performed to a standard that is staggering, given their ages, which range from 18 to well below 10. Some, indeed, performed to a standard that would impress regardless of age.
The concert opened with the massed forces of the Four Part Choir, performing Handel and Mike Brewer’s arrangement of “Hamba Lulu”. Although vivid, the performances highlighted some problems of choral work with young voices, not least unsupported tone quality. Other problems seemed to originate with the direction and training, with basic issues such as posture, stance, voice-production technique and a very curious and obtrusive realising of vowel sounds. Mark Griffiths’s tense conducting style coupled with a heads-in-copies approach from the singers did nothing to produce a convincing or exciting performance. Griffiths wandered around the stage, concentrating on particular sections, but therefore ignoring others, and the physical actions that accompanied “Hamba Lulu” were strangely uncoordinated.
But these youngsters can certainly sing. This was proved resoundingly with the smaller Vocal Ensemble, superbly directed by Philip Colman. Gradations of tone and dynamics were well-judged and totally unified – Colman was fully and comfortably in control and held every singer’s rapt attention. Martinů’s beautiful Part Songs gave rise to sensitively created vocal textures, and the solo voices of Anna Simmons and Alexandra Rogers were, in short, stunning – clear, perfectly tuned, confident and musical. Note these names down – and in ten years time go out and buy their CDs.
Lest we relax into our reverie too much, the Big Band grabbed us by our collars and showed more of Junior Trinity’s range. Improvisation is a valued talent, and the Big Band, with its full, punchy sound, gave the chance to hear some solo players practising this dark art – among several consummately professional solos, the drummer and saxophonist stood out with slick and glorious contributions.
The rest of the concert was devoted to the Symphony Orchestra, conducted with quiet sophistication by Andrew Morley. Rebecca Sewell’s performance of the first movement of Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto was given with poise, understated confidence and an iron-grip on technical perfection. The cadenza was well within her capable stride, and the speedy conclusion left no doubt of her talent and musical sensitivity.
Flora Cooke’s rendition of the opening movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto came from a very different, but equally superb, angle. The yearning inherent in Elgar’s writing was present deep in Cooke’s playing, with soulful tone and a beautifully tender and mature approach to phrasing and emotional content.
Following a rousing performance of Vaughan Williams’s Wasps Overture and the curiously chosen Prelude to Mussorgsky’s “Khovanshchina”, the baton was passed to Debbie Wiseman, an alumnus of Junior Trinity, conducting her music for “Wilde”. Whether it was the excitement of working with the composer, or a difference in compositional styles, the orchestra found new life and more emotional depth, together with a richer, more sonorous tone, in Wiseman’s memorable and touching music.
There is no denying that all of the musicians performing at this highly enjoyable event have much more to learn. But this group of extremely talented and dedicated youngsters, together with their infectious enjoyment of music, can’t help but reassure even the most cynical of doomsayers about the future.