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Review: Youth Camerata 2020

review by Julia Meredith

Another year, another Camerata concert, and another crop of impossibly talented youngsters from the tiny pool that is Guernsey. Truly the Music Service is the gift to the people of this island that never stops giving.
For a pretty horrible evening weather-wise, St James was buzzing. Lots of friends and family, naturally, but the majority of audience were simply music-lovers, hungry to see the next generation of young performers, some of whom (I am convinced) are destined to become household names on the wider stage in future.
First off was the Music Centre Cello Ensemble, with the Prelude from Bachianas Brasileiras by Villa Lobos, a wonderful fusion of Brazilian and Baroque, with a stately pace suited to the instruments’ sonorous lower register.
After the exodus of a dozen cellos and one double bass, Sam Cole and his violin seemed to have a lot of space to fill. As the assertive first phrase of Saint Saens Concerto No.3 in B minor took shape in the air, it was clear that I needn’t have worried: an air of resolve was backed up by real musicianship. This is a virtuoso piece requiring technical confidence: Sam handled the trills and chromatic passages with accuracy and clean, incisive bowing, thoughtful phrasing and a sweet, singing tone in the more delicate passages. An impressively mature performance.
In the context of Romance, the Trombone is not the most obvious instrument to whisper sweet nothings through. In Weber’s Romance, Gregory Male seemed to appreciate the humour; and yet in his rich tones there were moments of deep, expressive tenderness. Stephen le Prevost, accompanying on piano throughout the evening, here again showed himself to be a sensitive and responsive pair of hands.
For a first-ever cello solo in St James, the wrong size stool can be more than just a Goldilocks moment, but Archie Purdue showed great sang froid while the just-right size was provided – and then gave us a stellar performance of Schumann’s Opus 70, with no sign of nerves. The rich lyricism of the Adagio was lingered over in mellow beautifully-controlled slow passages, and the agile Allegro saw the two instruments perfectly synchronised, piano and cello rippling and skipping above and below each other. Archie clearly takes this seriously. As a result, so do we.
El Pano Moruno by Thomas de Falla was a delightful choice by violinist Joseph Stoller. His perky introduction was fulfilled by a suitably spirited performance that was over too soon, and we all left for interval smiling.
Adding a touch of glamour to the otherwise all-male soloists, Madison Devaney then played Handel’s melodious Flute Sonata in B minor with lyrical grace, and some lovely top notes.
As the only viola soloist, George Walker was worth waiting for. Bruch’s Kol Nidrei was not a work I was familiar with, but after Saturday night I won’t forget it. George occupies the space with confidence; each bow stroke feels considered, producing a lovely warm tone, and he showed great sensitivity to phrasing and the poetic emotion of the piece.
Gregory Male showed us the comic potential of the trombone again, with Arthur Pryor’s virtuousic Fantastic Polka, demanding real technical prowess and a strong pair of lungs, both of which he plainly possesses. Bravo!
Having heard Jacob Wright before, I was looking forward to his Allegro from Mozart’s ‘Turkish’ violin concerto. As he explained, he was going to take on American violinist Hilary Hahn’s cadenza: quite a big ask! But not over-ambitious, as soon became clear. Jacob plays with the assurance of one who needn’t doubt his skills, which gives him the freedom to let himself go – resulting in a very exciting performance, both clean and expressive. And, no surprises, the cadenza sparkled. An impressive standard-bearer for Guernsey’s musical reputation when he continues his studies at a Conservatoire in the UK next year.
Returning to the stage for the finale were Sam, Joe, George and Archie, here in Vivace! – the quartet they formed while still in Primary school (not that long ago!). Dvorak’s Opus 96 is transcendent folk music, poignantly evocative in the Lento and bustling with good humour in the Vivace (no pun intended). For so young a group their intercommunication is amazing. The slow movement’s sustained intensity was lovingly voiced by Archie’s cello, the others building up the soundscape at an unhurried tempo that was perfectly synchronized and responsive to the introspective mood.
The switch to the prancing, skipping tempo of the final movement was handled with weightless dexterity and sounded great fun to play – quite an achievement in light of the mercurial pivotings of pace and character. Sam’s first violin provided a buoyant and reliable lead, and quieter passages were managed with admirable discretion. I realized that if the whole glorious evening had made me feel anything, it was optimism. With musicians like these in the pipeline, bursting with energy and promise, we’re going to be ok.
Final thanks to BWCI, who have sponsored the Guernsey Camerata ever since 2002, enabling free entry, so anyone can come and take pride in what young Guernsey (and their teachers) have achieved. It’s an amazing benefit to the community, and is appreciated as never before this year, when the idea of a live performance to a full house remains a fantasy outside of our Bailiwick.


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