Purcell School 50th Anniversary Concert at the Royal Festival Hall*****

To mark their 50th anniversary, the Symphony Orchestra of the Purcell School of Music travelled from Bushey to the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank to perform a programme whose musical interest fully matched up to the occasion. There was something in it for everyone.

We are fortunate to have on our doosteps these brilliant young musicians, among them some from the four corners of the world; they have come here because this school does something very special for them.

The concert began with a short and brilliant fanfare Jubilee composed by Alan Mofti, still a pupil at the school, who took a bow. Then came, as if just to show that they could do the conventional repertoire, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in C, opus 56. Distinguished soloists were assembled, all alumni of the school: Jianing Kong (piano), Jack Liebeck (violin) and Robert Cohen (cello). The drama of the concerto form was effectively expressed; with rare exceptions, there was good balance among the soloists and between them and the orchestra.

The audience was enthusiastic, though unfortunately there were some who, in this work and in The Planets later, interrupted the music by applauding between the movements.

Joseph Phibbs, also a former pupil, had composed for the occasion Towards Purcell, an orchestral piece based on a theme by the 17th century composer Henry Purcell. All sections of the orchestra had a chance to show their skill – as did the horn, for instance, notoriously vulnerable, with its mournful theme. This work could be a staple of musical education to match Britten’s Young Person’s Guide. Phibbs too took a bow.

After the interval, for Holst’s The Planets, there were some hundred players on the platform as well as a women’s chorus of some 25 off-stage in the last movement. You will never hear a more exciting performance of this famous work, in which there are opportunities for instruments that have them comparatively rarely, such as the alto flute and the euphonium; it is a work to test one’s familiarity with the full range of orchestral sound. For any in the audience to whom Towards Purcell was strange, this was the work, some of whose tunes have become widely popular, to send them home exalted.

Many of the young players of the Purcell School will presumably become professional musicians, and they are already so good that at times the conductor Paul Daniel could let them play with almost no direction. The solos by the leader, Anny Chen, and others in the second movement, Venus, deserve praise.

In the last movement, Neptune, the voices of the off-stage choir emerged naturally and the music faded gradually to convey the mystical effect that Holst wanted.

Graham Mordue

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