Maestros of St Mary's sweep the board

14th June 1996 at 01:00
The Concerto Class of the Edinburgh Competition Festival is almost a young musicians' contest for the east of Scotland. On May 28, in St Bernard's Church, the final round presented four survivors from the original 16 competitors, performing their pieces with a full orchestra.

We all have sympathy for adjudicators faced with making a choice between different instruments that defy objective comparison. Selection of the most appropriate work is crucial; it is often easier to impress with a well-worn classic than an obscure piece. How, for example can a double bass compete on anything like equal terms with a violin?

All four soloists are pupils of St Mary's Music School. Sarah Rimer traversed familiar ground with the first two movements of Bruch's First Violin Concerto, with a commanding presence and well projected tone, especially secure in high positions. A few intonation lapses in the slow movement did not detract from an impressive performance.

Koussevitzky's Double Bass Concerto is a genuine rarity. It opens with an orchestral flourish worthy of Tchaikovsky but thereafter ambles along in an amiable way.

Ross Allan immediately established his role as soloist, dominating the accompaniment and making the instrument a totally legitimate candidate for a concerto.

Sally Day was the unanimous selection for the prize for her very accomplished account of Busoni's aristocratic Clarinet Concertino. She showed professional assurance and a clear understanding of the late Romantic idiosyncratic musical language.

Without disagreeing with the adjudicators' decision, I was most moved by the utterly spellbinding beauty of the playing of the violinist Sheila Law of Vaughan Williams's "The Lark Ascending". She reached to the very core of its deep inner emotion and elegiac nostalgia. The ad hoc orchestra of Friends of the Festival provided sensitive and characterful accompaniments under the direction of Alisdair Mitchell.

The much acclaimed West Lothian Schools Brass Band under their conductor Nigel Boddice have issued their first compact disc entitled Cartoon (Polyphonic CD QPRL 075D). Winners of three prestigious championships in 1995, the Scottish Youth, National Youth and European Brass Bands, they show their expertise in repertoire ranging from Henry VIII to the Rolling Stones.

The spotlight falls on their soloist, Angela Whelan, a former member of the band and winner of the 1995 London Symphony Orchestra-Shell Scholarship. She is kept busy with five display pieces.

The most substantial is a Concertino for Trumpet by the Danish composer Mogens Andresen, three short movements of immense ingenuity and charm, one of the best items on the disc.

An altogether different side to her formidable technique is exploited in the big band Trumpet Concerto by Harry James.

Scottish music is well represented by Glyn Bragg's jaunty "Mr MacIntyre's March", "Cartoon" by Thomas Wilson and several arrangements including a surprising treatment of "Amazing Grace". There are no real brass band standards unless "Star Wars" has reached that status, but plenty of intriguing novelties on this enjoyable disc where playing and recording are of an exceptionable quality.

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