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Rhapsody in hall

Michael Burnett reports on this year's Schools Prom Wales.

Playing at Schools Prom Wales is more exciting than our usual concerts", says Jennifer Davies. "The audience is so enthusiastic." Jennifer is a member of the South Glamorgan Youth Brass Band whose performance of Edward Gregson's Music for Greenwich proved one of the highlight's of this year's Prom Ysgolion Cymru. Rhythmically incisive, and dynamically alert, this was music-making of a professional standard and it elicited rapturous applause from the large audience at St David's Hall, Cardiff.

Jazz News, also from South Glamorgan, provided another of the evening's highlights with their stylistic and well disciplined readings of Hefti's Cute and an arrangement of Gillespie's A Night in Tunisia.

Introducing the band, comp re Robin Jones said he had news for "the old fogeys" in the audience. "Jazz has now become respectable because of its inclusion in GCSE syllabuses", he said.

Jones might have made a similar comment about rock music when he welcomed Groves High School Femme on stage. Winners of the 1995 Roland Electro-Acoustic Award, this all-female quartet, former pupils of the Wrexham school, demonstrated the creative potential of the genre. Indeed, the originality of the three songs which they so confidently performed must have amazed the "old fogeys".

Significantly, Femme's opening number, "The Love that was Blind", was sung in Welsh and, melodically, was linked to the country's folk tradition. It was good to be reminded of the growing awareness among young people of the nature of Welsh music. And the fact that Femme are following in the footsteps of professionals like Sian James in using the music as a stimulus to rock composition bodes well.

The contrasts of style and genre which epitomise Schools Prom Wales could hardly be better demonstrated than in those between Femme's rock compositions and J S Bach's fourth Brandenburg Concerto, the first movement of which was performed by the Sir Thomas Picton String Orchestra, Haverfordwest. Here, soloists Kathryn James (violin), with Lisa Davies and Gareth James (flutes), played with verve and conviction, although there were occasional phrasing discrepancies between the three.

Given that so many young people learn woodwind and brass instruments in school, it's commendable that the West Glamorgan Youth Wind Orchestra's policy is to include as many such players as possible. The 145-strong orchestra opened with a well projected performance of Bernstein's Slava during which the problems of balance associated with a group of this nature had been largely overcome. There were occasional phrasing problems, though, and melodic outlines were not always sufficiently distinguishable.

Dyfed Youth Choir's first contribution, an arrangement of the popular song Ysbryd y Nos (Spirit of the Night), proved a delight. Unaccompanied, this 150-strong group made the most of the expressive capabilities of the arrangement. The choir was then joined by the Dyfed Chamber Orchestra for a lively performance of Handel's Zadok the Priest. At times, this piece sounded under-rehearsed and the stringsfailed to match the choir.

Described by comp re Jones as "One of the most popular groups in Wales", Ysgol Glanaethwy staged a new musical, Cofio (Remember). In the process, this talented group of 11 to 15-year-olds made full, but disciplined, use of their song and dance capabilities. And Mirain Haf Roberts excelled in a lovely soprano solo near the end.

The Prom concluded with some skilful performances from the Gwent Youth Orchestra. Indeed, the orchestra's interpretation of Malcolm Arnold's Little Suite No 2 proved outstanding, with some appropriately rich string tone for the lyrical melody in the Overture, incisive percussion playing during the Dance and, throughout, excellent ensemble and dynamic control.

Schools Prom Wales is presented by Music for Youth. MFY is sponsored by British Aerospace, Commercial Union, Glaxo Wellcome and W H Smith Group in association with The TES and supported by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, the Department for Education and Employment, the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, Marks and Spencer, Music Industries Association, National Union of Teachers, Trinity College, London and The Welsh Office. Music for Youth: 0181 870 9624

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