A one hour concert performed by first year undergraduate students of the RNCM in the Concert Hall of the college yesterday afternoon.

The first half was given up to the strings, and they played Handel's Concerto Grosso no 7 (opus 6) in B flat.

George Frederik Handel, although German by birth became a naturalised Englishman and favourite of the court, his compositions gaining much interest and adulation in his own lifetime. Famous for his Oratorio, 'The Messiah', his 'Water Music' and his 'Music For The Royal Fireworks', his other, less well known pieces do tend to take very much a back seat in concert repertoires. However, he was quite a prolific composer and some of these works should be brought into the spotlight!

Playing Handel requires a delicacy and lightness to the playing, even the largo and sostenuto passages need to be kept light - and this is what the students understood so very well this afternoon - never once allowing the gorgeous melodies and harmonies to consume and always allowing the lightness to shine. The canon of the second movement was a joy, and I loved the legato passages of the 3rd movement. Handel can easily become sentimental with the tune being lost within the decoration, but here, nothing was allowed to get in the way. The only thing that I would have liked was a little more attention to the dynamics of the piece. There was little difference in volume throughout.

The string orchestra was conducted by Chris Hoyle.

There was then a slight hiatus whilst the seating was reconfigured in order to accommodate the Wind section for the second half of the concert. During this, one of today's three conductors took the microphone and spoke a little about the two pieces we were about to hear. This was a very nice idea, which in the absence of programme, was also somewhat necessary! [How many times do I have to lament the lack of programmes!!? How many times do I have to keep mentioning this before someone realises that they are a most essential part to ANY performance of any kind!! And how difficult is it to simply print off an A5-sized typed list??! ]

So, the second piece of the afternoon was the World Premier performance of a student composition; 'Dance Of The Phoenix' by Han Xu. This was a very loud and discordant piece with moments of respite. Xu used Chinese percussion and even some Chinese rhythms within the piece, and this time there was great observance of when the music should be ff or pp. I really enjoyed the ending, the idea that the music is still 'playing' until the noise of the fading gong has completely died. The composer was in attendance and took his bow at the end along with conductor Matt Weites.

There really could not have been two more contrasting pieces programmed for the same concert, and so the third piece attempted in some small way to bridge that gap. Despite it being a contemporary piece, it did have a very retrospective feel to it, and there was harmony and melody in there. The piece was 'The Diaghilev Dances' by composer and lecturer at the RCM (London), Kenneth Hesketh. It is a homage to Russian Ballet Impresario and founder of The ballet Russe in Paris, Segei Diaghilev. As such the music has that wonderful turn of the 20th century feel to it, and the influences of both Stravinsky and Ravel can be easily heard.

Conducted by Mark Heron, he was quite right when he said that this piece would prove very challenging for this first year undergrad orchestra, but I think he was slightly underestimating their prowess, since despite the difficulty of the piece, they performed it quite brilliantly. It is a very evocative piece with richly composed lyricism. I loved the observance of the pauses after a blaring ff passage, and the slow denouement leading to the again ff finish.

A truly enjoyable musical hour in the company of the RNCM students, and surprisingly for a weekday afternoon, very well attended too. The RNCM advertise that, 'performance is at the heart of everything we do'; and long may they continue to do so.

Reviewer: Mark Dee

Reviewed: 25th February 2016