Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Cambridge Corn Exchange, Saturday, June 17

CAMBRIDGE NEWS

The final concert in Cambridge Live’s 2016-17 Classical Concert Series on Saturday night at Cambridge Corn Exchange was not only a fitting climax to a wonderful run of performances since the series started last October, but also a brilliant celebration of youthful talent.

Orchestra-in-residence the Royal Philharmonic were their usual, vivid and accomplished selves, tonight led by the avuncular, enthusiastic presence of conductor Martyn Brabbins. The RPO’s educational programme – RPO Resound – have once again, this season, been active with local school students, and the first performance of the night was the result of this collaboration.

As musicians from Netherhall School joined the RPO – often only distinguishable from the ‘professionals’ thanks to the school uniforms they were wearing - a choir of Year 6 pupils from Queen Edith’s Primary School stood stage-front, all performing a piece that had been written at workshops led by the orchestra. The result was a genuinely authentic-sounding piece of music, that didn’t seem out of place being performed by a professional orchestra - and it was great to see youngsters take to the Corn Exchange stage in this way, clearly (rightly) proud of their accomplishment and hopefully also musically inspired for the future.

Which brings us onto the soloist for tonight’s show. Originally this concert was to be the culmination of trumpet player Alison Balsom’s year as artist-in-residence: a hugely popular choice whose performances have really drawn the crowds to the Corn Exchange this season. Unfortunately, on doctor’s orders (she is pregnant), Alison had to withdraw from the concert. Fortunately, however, her replacement was almost equally impressive.

With just four weeks’ notice, and aged only 18 (and in the middle of exams), French trumpet player Lucienne Renaudin Vary stepped into the breach admirably to perform Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, the centrepiece of tonight’s concert (after The RPO’s languid, evocative and suitably impressionistic rendition of Debussy’s Prelue a l’Apres-Midi d’un Faune, perfectly-pitched for the close, sultry temperature after the heat of the day).

Lucienne’s animation – often seeming to almost dance along with the liveliest parts of the concerto – was perhaps a product of her youth, while her confidence and expressive interpretation certainly belied it.

After the break, we were treated to Shostakovich’s Symphony No 5 in D minor to end the concert – and indeed the whole series – in fine fashion. The enigmatic masterpiece took in everything from the incisive, martial rhythmic moments of the first movement, its slight dissonances contrasting pleasingly with the soft, romantic moments to the bombastic opening of the second movement, which gave way to gentler melodic moments. Beautiful and elegiac, the third movement with its yearning sadness set the scene beautifully for the blockbuster finish of the fourth.

As with the whole series this year, then, Saturday evening’s final concert was a great demonstration of the power of classical music: both how an orchestra at the top of its game can evoke a seemingly-endless series of moods and feelings to transport an audience, and also how it can involve, encourage and – yes, that word again! – inspire a younger generation’s creativity. Who knows: maybe in a few years’ time one of those Netherhall or Queen Edith’s pupils will be taking their turn on the Corn Exchange stage as full-time member of the orchestra, or even in the Alison Balsom or Lucienne Renaudin Vary solo slot. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?


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