The choral and instrumental concert this year, given as last year at Walthamstow County High School, was more ambitious than previous ones, in that the orchestra was our own. In addition, there was a large number of solo items, each directly involving at least two sets of tortured nerves, so that the audience, many members having a personal interest in the proceedings, was nervous in sympathy; but the assurance, real or forced, of the performers soon dispelled this tension, thus undoubtedly helping the performers themselves.
The first work was a piano concerto by John Stanley. On this occasion it was found necessary to leave the recorders out of the orchestra. The solo part was competently played by Michael Nyman on the High School's new piano, and the work provided an enjoyable and satisfying start. Then the High School choir displaced the orchestra to sing two songs by Purcell and one by Quilter. The first of the Purcell songs, "I'll Sail upon the Dog Star", is very English in its brisk cheerfulness, though perhaps superficial for Purcell; but in "Stream Daughters" his harmonic subtlety is given free rein, and intellectually the work is on quite a different level. Quilter provided a little-known setting of "It was a Lover", though one could not feel that he had produced a real alternative to the original version. In all these songs, the skill and discipline of the choir were much in evidence, and the words came through with unusual clarity.
Next came what was undoubtedly the best of the solo items, as was reflected in the enthusiastic applause, the Allegro from Schubert's delightful violin sonata in G minor. The violin part was brilliantly played by John Telford, though some of the more difficult passages tended to sound scrappy, presumably owing to nervousness; since the rehearsals are said to have been even better. Alan Brown played the piano part.
Next in this group of solo items were arrangements for two pianos of Handel's popular "Entry of the Queen of Sheba", from "Solomon", and Arthur Benjamin's outrageously popular "Jamaican Rumba", played by Christine Gooding and Mary Peskett. The texture was confused, mainly owing to the public-house tone of the other piano, but the great virtue of this item was that the performers contrived to keep exactly together, a feat of which the difficulty far outweighs the advantage of mutual insurance against accident.
The same high standard was maintained by a performance of the Allegro from Weber's Grand Duo Concertant by David Bramhall (clarinet) and M. Nyman. The work is a good example of Weber's late classical instrumental style, showy but not without inspiration. This was followed by Gurlitt's Miniature Trio, charming but substantial enough for its size, played by Janice Attfield, Marion Salt and Mary Peskett. This performance was badly affected with nerves, and there was a disappointment in so much talent going to waste. But the result was yet probably much better than the performers think.
When the girls' choir sang another three songs, they ran the risk that so many songs in one evening would produce a confused impression. But the third song, an "Easter Carol" by Thiman, stood out with unusual clarity as being so strongly reminiscent of those stereotyped pieces shrilled by every first-former between doses of musical theory; the last verse was repeated for the benefit of an audience already eager for its clinking cup of tea, nursed through jostling crowds to the sanctuary of a tubular steel seat.
The last music-lover returned his empty cup just in time to be back for Mozart's Serenade in C, a work typical of Mozart and of serenades in general. Many observers have remarked upon the progress shown by the School orchestra in recent months; and, indeed, in many passages there was a fullness and solidity of tone which was a pleasure to hear. The same quality was predominant in the singing of the combined choir, making its first appearance that evening to perform chorale preludes by Bach and Handel. The Handel work, "Schmucke Dich" (deck thyself), is Handel at his best, and stood up very well beside the popular "Jesu, joy of man's desiring," representing the even greater composer, Bach; though it is doubtful whether either master would have approved of the unduly prominent tenor line.
The combined choir was then joined by Mr. John Camburn, of the Savoy Chapel Choir, for the main work of the evening, Gordon Jacob's recent cantata "Highways," which was given what was probably its third performance. This is a highly entertaining work in as wide a variety of styles as the entire concert. Despite its newness, the movement entitled "Penny Farthing" began with a tune which many members of the audience greeted as an old friend, albeit under novel circumstances. Mr. Campurn brought out well the humorous nature of Christopher Hassall's verses and the evening was thus enjoyably ended.
Thanks and congratulations are due to Mr. Sergeant and Miss Berry, who arranged the concert and conducted and accompanied the choral items, and to all those who, in any role, or sometimes in two or three, helped to make the concert such a success.