The Royal Albert Hall is only a short distance from Buckingham Palace. Rarely, though, can a concert have begun when the Queen was embroiled in such public controversy. If Her Majesty had heard the Northamptonshire County Youth Concert Band, her thanks for the support would have been palpable. The players' sure-footed negotiation of the national anthem set the tone for three superb hours of music. Their main piece, Evocations by Martin Ellerby, was a set of contrasting portraits from Spain and Latin America. The carnival spirit of the first section, the languorous delicacy of the second and the rhythmic extravagance of the third - full of claves, virtuoso drumming and chanting - gave full evidence of the band's mature skills and stage presence.
The John Fisher School Chapel Choir come from a large boys' comprehensive in South London. Their daily rehearsals are striking evidence of their commitment; their singing showed it to be based on firm achievement as well as potential. An unaccompanied 20th century setting of a Latin invocation to enjoy music was performed with care and feeling; so too was a Hungarian evening prayer with hummed harmonies and a gentle descent to a pianissimo close. The most poignant moments occurred in Handel's Lascia ch'io pianga. One or two high notes were perhaps slightly snatched at, but the overall tone was beautiful, and the return of the main melody seemed simply to erase the three hundred years between the composer and the boys performing his music.
Everyone loved the Little Voices from Shakespeare Primary School in Lancashire. Aged between six and eight, they displayed complete aplomb as they sang, danced and enacted an entire circus. Clowns with blue, green and yellow hair produced George Formby comedy, joined by marching soldier dolls, ballerinas, high-stepping horses and a strong man with his even stronger girl assistant. They not only enjoyed themselves and entertained a huge hall of their elders. They sang and moved with clarity, precision, deftness and great charm.
The Lady Eleanor Holles School Symphony Orchestra from Middlesex undertook the imposing challenge of an entire Beethoven movement, the first part of the First Symphony. There was a slight hesitancy in the adagio chords of the opening, understandably so because these in effect constitute a tradition-breaking modulation to the subdominant. But as C major arrived, their confidence grew and the smallish band gave an excellent account of some tricky passage work leading towards the development. By the time the hammered tonic chords of the coda arrived, the players had easily earned their right to appear on a stage where older and more famous musicians have performed the same work.
The Southampton Jazz Project took the shape of three highly talented young performers on bass, drums and piano. This was only their third outing as a trio, but their ensemble playing was excellent. Specialising in modern jazz, they began with a Herbie Hancock number, in which a delicate suspended cymbal opening led to the gradual unrolling of an eloquent melody over a discreet bass. Their other number was by their teacher; its Cuban-influenced sound was given with quiet control and elegance, but also with energy and spirit, both in the proper places.
The Soundwaves Choir from Lytton House, Putney High School, offered drama as well as music. Pinafore Pirates was, as its title suggests, a pastiche of Sullivan. Among the brightly flapping bunting and the multicoloured kerchiefs and the silvery costumes, a comic story developed, with female pirates, full of vocal strength and confidence, begging to be arrested by knee-bending policemen. The choir welcomed the attention of the audience and deserved to win it over, as they did.
Aylesbury Music Centre Dance Band gave a marvellously vibrant set. Their first piece Sad Afrika was by Django Bates, originally written for Loose Tubes but no less eloquently performed here, with wild free playing and fierce growls and shrieks matched against tight rhythms and exuberantly swelling chords moving to a huge slow final crescendo. Bill Bailey was done with splendid comic verve, with trombones lurching joyfully, funny voices and the players themselves leaping about in an infectiously enjoyable Mexican wave while their notes stayed as accurate as ever.
The Fairer Six are a sextet of recent graduates of Wells Cathedral School, pioneer girl choristers in a formerly closed masculine world. Their courage in singing a cappella in London's largest venue was great, and was underwritten by the beauty of their offering. Soaring high sopranos floated towards the Hall's high roof, sustained by the firm clarity of the lower voices. Two of their pieces were on religious themes and conveyed a rapt spirituality through intense technical demands. A version of Mr Wonderful finished things off with sentimental-ironic barbershop zest.
The Bromley Massed Choir comprised 500 children from 22 primary schools. A great silent and perfectly behaved army through much of the concert, they suddenly rose to sing settings of words from street and playground games, products of oral tradition in a newly composed guise. The children's diction and pitching were enjoyably clear and accurate. Taunts, squibs, jokes and poignant moments blended together finely, with jazzy interludes and some impressively precise ostinati in a performance of great character.
Sounds of Steel from Hampshire gave two numbers that showed the range of their fine talents. An arrangement of Samuel Barber's Adagio presented technical obstacles to overcome - how to produce the equivalent of the sustained string legato while using beaters. The band's immense dexterity of wrist movements met very nearly all the relevant demands of an intriguing and attention-compelling performance. Music for the Soul was played with all the commitment it deserved. Players literally jumped up and down as they maintained a strict and professional pulse under all the metrical invention.
The Northamptonshire County Youth Orchestra finished proceedings in fine style. They began with Gershwin's Cuban Overture, a potentially tricky piece where string tones very briefly wandered. A highly skilled clarinet solo led into the quiet middle section before a return to the elegant jauntiness of the main tune. Then it was Elgar, fireworks, balloons and unquenchable celebration.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;
Picture: The Soundwaves Choir, 96 girls fromnbsp;Lytton House, Putney High School, performing a spoof on Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. At front is Rachel Singer as the Pirate Queen. Photo bynbsp;Neil Turner.
Music for Youth is sponsored by:
National Union of Teachers
The Times Educational Supplement