Farnham Festival ends with a fanfare

Photographer: Jeremy Smith

Photographer: Jeremy Smith

Down the years, Farnham Festival concerts have been regularly relied upon to provide huge variety, enthusiasm and technical excellence from local young musicians and Wednesday’s closing concert, shared by More House School’s Brass Ensemble and Farnham Youth Choir, decisively carried on the tradition.

From the very first note, the Festival’s emphasis on ‘new music for young people’ was evident as More House’s young brass players launched with great gusto into Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Festival Fanfare, written originally for the very first Farnham Festival back in 1961. This was followed by an atmospheric performance of one of the famous love themes from James Horner’s Braveheart, with Leo Weller the lyrical trumpet soloist, and the set finished with a classic American foot-stomper, Henry Fillmore’s Lassus Tombone, led appropriately and with panache by Henry Hannsen and his fellow trombonists.        

Michael Kamen’s Band of Brothers theme and Puttin’ on the Ritz by Irving Berlin showed the ensemble to good advantage and the church resounded to conductor Craig Burnett’s imaginative arrangement of the final movement of Stravinsky’s ballet, The Firebird.      

Farnham Youth Choir under its director Joanna Tomlinson and accompanist Matthew Rickard immediately pinned our ears back with the punchy rhythms of the traditional spiritual, Joshua, followed by three sacred motets spanning six centuries, each delivered with the choir’s trademark virtues of clarity of diction and rich dynamic range.

FYC’s - and the Festival’s - commitment to new music was reflected in a new Surrey County Council commission, Everyone Sang, by Janet Wheeler. This beautiful setting of words by Siegfried Sassoon was given a truly joyous and flowing performance by the choir - “Everyone’s voice was suddenly uplifted” indeed - and looks set to become an established part of the choir’s repertoire.

The lighter side of the choir’s programming was reflected in characterful performances of songs such as Sweet Georgia Brown and a classy arrangement of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love with sensitive soloist Caroline Brown. However, none of this had quite prepared us for Paloma Faith’s Upside Down, in a real showstopper of an arrangement by Michael Higgins. And, with vibrant choreography to match, there was no doubt the choir enjoyed it as much as we did!         

Finally, the audience was sent home with two famous tunes ringing in its ears, as FYC and More House School combined to perform what have become unofficial national anthems - Be Still My Soul from Sibelius’ Finlandia and I Vow to Thee My Country from Holst’s suite, The Planets - conducted with typical vigour and feeling by Craig Burnett. 

Reviewer: Graham Noakes