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Junior Royal Northern College of Music, Festival Centre, Market Drayton - review

Market Drayton | Music | Published:

Four talented and accomplished members of the Junior Royal Northern College of Music gave an outstanding performance at the Festival Centre last Saturday.

Clockwise from back left: Brendan Huo, Rachel Burnett, Joe Boulton, Jerome Ness, and Ruby Howells

A discriminating member of the audience (she’d been to hear both the Hallé and CBSO that week) summed up the concert in a single word: “Splendid!”

First up we heard Ruby Howells, a 16-year-old flautist who lives in Market Drayton. She played the allegro from Stamitz’ Concerto in D with great confidence and precision, returning in the second half to blow us away with French composer Cécile Chaminade’s Flute Concertino in D Major.

“The story is that she wrote the piece to punish a flautist she didn’t like,” Ruby explained. The piece has a rich romantic melody and a highly decorative, fiendishly difficult solo part – which Ruby played with aplomb and sensitivity. Thrilling.

Fifteen-year-old singer Rachel Burnett was accompanied at the piano by the College’s David Jones. She mined the melancholy in Tchaikovsky’s song None but the Lonely Heart (can know my sadness) and made me shiver with her haunting Ships of Arcady by Michael Head, with words from the poet Francis Ledwidge, killed in 1917.

She showed a more playful, witty, side in Brahms’ Vergebliches Standchen (Futile Serenade) and ended with one of the great young-person’s anthems – Bernstein’s Somewhere from West Side Story. The tone of pathos in her voice, hopefulness notwithstanding, was very touching.

Jerome Ness, another 16 year old, commanded attention with his precise and disciplined guitar playing – taking the often complex rhythms of his favoured south American composers in his stride.

We heard pieces from Cuban Leo Brouwer, Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos and Paraguayan Augustín Barrios Mangoré. My personal favourites were the Walton Bagatelles, written in 1970 for Julian Bream. Jerome played them beautifully. The first ended in a perfectly delivered run of harmonics and a solitary tap on the body of the instrument, leading into the next in which Jerome’s guitar seemed to sing with delight.

And last but not least, pianist Brendan Huo – at 18, the granddaddy of the group – gave us the third movement of Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ sonata, marked allegretto (moderately fast). It hardly prepared us for his barnstorming performance of Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No 4 in the second half. Adjusting his seat half-a-dozen times before he began, as if it were a saddle he was determined not to fall out of, Brendan wowed his audience with the speed and flair with which he delivered this complex virtuosic piece. It was exhilarating.

The four performers came out together to take a final bow and their beaming smiles clearly showed well-earned pleasure and pride in what they had achieved (with perhaps just a hint of relief that it was over). Karen Humphreys, Head of the Royal Northern who had been unobtrusively turning pages for the accompanist, had to nod towards the exit to encourage them to leave.

By John Hargreaves

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