The Purcell School 50th-Anniversary Celebration

Alan Mofti
Fanfare – Jubilee
Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello in C, Op.56
Joseph Phibbs
Towards Purcell [Commissioned for the Purcell School’s 50th-Anniversary: World premiere]
The Planets – Suite for Large Orchestra, Op.32

Jianing Kong (piano), Jack Liebeck (violin) & Robert Cohen (cello)

Nicholas Daniel (oboe & cor anglais), Catrin Finch (harp) & Tim Thorpe (horn) [Phibbs]

The Purcell School Chorus [Holst]

The Purcell School Orchestra
Paul Daniel

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 19 March, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Paul Daniel. Photograph: HRH The Prince of Wales as Patron and Sir Simon Rattle as President – Paul Daniel added lustre to this 50th-anniversary concert for the Purcell School by guiding with alacrity and geniality his well-prepared youthful charges through a programme of good variety. It opened with Alan Mofti’s Fanfare – Jubilee. Mofti (born 1996) is a Purcell School pupil. His brief Fanfare is stirring, somewhere between a Wild West and World War soundtrack. It fades to nothing and stops, but before doing so it engages and impresses. It was played with enthusiasm.

The soloists at this concert are all alumni of the Purcell School. The Beethoven was given a purposeful and shapely performance, with good (hard stick) timpani enlivening the tuttis. The solo string-players tended to be dominated by the pianist who was rather too loud at times (the piano’s lid on a shorter stick might have helped), but at least he observed the sustaining-pedal markings at the close (quite a few pianists do not). The slow movement was a flowing if affecting intermezzo, although the finale could have been broader in pace to suit its polonaise rhythm (a stately dance) which would have helped Jack Liebeck and Robert Cohen get all their notes in without sounding harassed.

Joseph Phibbs’s new piece begins in celebratory terms. There are not many works featuring oboe & cor anglais, horn and harp as soloists. Phibbs’s exquisitely imagined opus sustains well its 17-minute course. It’s essentially a lyrical piece (stimulated by percussion riffs), its Purcell inspiration being moved towards, with Britten (who had a Purcellian assignation of his own, of course) and, to a lesser extent, Lutosławski as references. With the three soloists in fine form, the expressive, intense and atmospheric Towards Purcell made a big first impression, something quite typical with Phibbs’s music.

The shortage of personnel in the viola and double bass sections was most noticeable in The Planets. Nevertheless it was a spirited and detailed performance, played with commitment and assuredness, muscles flexed in ‘Mars’, sensitivity abounding in ‘Venus’. Nimbleness was found for ‘Mercury’ (if a little cautious in tempo) and ‘Jupiter’ was given with optimism, the famous hymn-tune movingly played, Paul Daniel later indulging a questionable accelerando, albeit with a smile! ‘Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age’ was implacable, suitably death-haunted, although the tubular bells were under-balanced in the searing climax. Come its moving close, those that had marred the end of each movement with irritating applause showed themselves to be remarkably inconsiderate to Holst’s depth of feeling and the numbness it should engender (so much more meaningful than boorish clapping) … nevertheless Daniel got straight on with ‘Uranus’, not the most malevolent account but played with rhythmic élan and with a well-made glissando from organist Glen Dempsey. The chilliest music of the Suite, for ‘Neptune’, was realised with glacial remoteness, the off-stage chorus retreating with particular success to a long, well-observed silence.

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