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Bryanston Choral Society and Combined Choir Annual Concert

The Lighthouse, Poole, Friday 13 March 2015

To arrange the Annual Bryanston Concert which involves two orchestras, a concert band, the school Combined Choir of 150 students and the Bryanston Choral Society of over 80 adults is an extraordinary feat of organisation. To arrange it for Friday 13th shows a level of confidence that we have come to expect from Duncan Emerson and his colleagues! However the audience at the Lighthouse were rewarded with an evening of a wide variety of wonderful music performed by a large number of enthusiastic and talented performers.

The concert got off to a cracking start with Sibelius’ Finlandia, a concert favourite and a great piece to bring the school orchestra together with the professionals brought in for the evening. The choirs were in the audience for the first half and most (though not all) of the adults resisted the temptation to hum along to this most stirring of pieces. The orchestra really seemed to enjoy getting the concert of to a flying start.

In complete contrast was Tanto Gentile written by Bryanston’s own Director of Music Duncan Emerson following a visit he had made to Puccini’s birthplace. The baritone soloist Richard Rowntree and the orchestra performed beautifully, the music subtly interpreting the sensitive sonnet written by Dante Alighieri.

Every year Bryanston manages to produce a really talented student who has the opportunity to play a solo work with the orchestra. This year was no exception and the audience was treated to Charlotte Salter playing Arthur Benjamin’s Oboe Concerto for Orchestra and Strings. Charlotte has only been playing the oboe since she was 13 years old but she managed to play with a level of control and passion usually only found in more experienced performers. Benjamin’s work offered an excellent opportunity to showcase her talents and Charlotte showed the audience why she has been offered the John MacIntyre Oboe Award at the Royal Welsh College of Music – we will hear more of her in the future.

The first half of the concert was brought to a conclusion with two very lively and entertaining pieces. Robert Smith’s Encanto is a rollicking piece performed by a well rehearsed concert band – Eleanor Killner (flute), Patrick Yeates (saxophone) and Thomas Stewart (trumpet) all grabbed their chances in the solo sections to show the depth of talent that there is at the school. Finally a selection from Gregson-Williams’ Chronicles of Narnia nearly took the roof off the concert hall with a 100-strong orchestra (violinists having to stand at the sides of the stage!). A rousing way to send the audience to the bar to recover.

Suitably refreshed and the choir in place, the second half started with a performance of Stanford’s Te Deum, a work that is not often performed. This is a shame as it really is a beautiful piece of music performed with feeling by the large choir being conducted by Graham Scott. Graham had clearly rehearsed the choirs really well to bring out all the nuances and contrasts in the music and it is always a surprise at Bryanston concerts to realise that the school choirs and the Choral Society only combine for one rehearsal before the performance – and only with the orchestra on the afternoon of the performance.

This is all the more remarkable with the final substantial work – Stanford’s Stabat Mater. With soloists, Merryn Gamba (soprano), Susanna Spicer (mezzo soprano), Richard Rowntree (tenor) and Andrew Kidd (bass), Duncan controlled the huge variations throughout this complex piece with warmth and understanding. The choral singers of all ages seemed to really be enjoying singing what is not the easiest work and one which most had probably not performed before. The quality of the singing is to the credit of the Bryanston Music Department who rehearse both the students and the Society and achieve a very high standard and level of enthusiasm rarely seen in amateur and youth choirs.

I am already looking forward to next year’s concert!

Julian Black
20 March 2015