Skip to main content

A May-Week Concert, Tranchell, The Cambridge Review, 31st May 1952

An account of a concert given last May-Week will serve, I hope, as an incentive to those organising or attending May Week concerts this year to make these occasions ever more enterprising. The programme was audaciously planned and triumphantly executed, adding yet another petal of justification to the flower of undergraduate effort. The concert started after a mysterious delay of twenty minutes with a group of Madrigals by Possler, Coloncini, and Brown, of whom the first-named is too little known. As a composer of descriptive pieces he should rank a firm equal with, say, Amtberger, on the score of his “‘Beehive” Madrigal alone.

Two Harpsichord Lessons of Padre Maroni followed on the piano. I congratulate the pianist on turning what might have been sawdust to our palates into something as gaily nutritive as damp sack-cloth.

A welcome change was Handel’s celebrated “Hallelujah” Chorus, in an arrangement for two flutes. The imagination boggles at the idea of a couple of gallons forced into a half-pint pot, but it was a revelation how successful the limited medium proved. The total effect was perhaps a shade unsatisfactory, for the second flautist, fearing no doubt that the audience might suffer a surfeit of sifflage, hurried ahead, omitting a couple of bars in the first ten seconds, and pressing on with courageous disregard. He completed the course an easy winner by several lengths—having bumped the audience all along the line.

The second half of the concert began with a fine rendering of an aria by Petruzzio. Someone chose this moment to start a change-ringing practice in a neighbouring belfry, so we did not hear a note, but I am sure that every single one was delicious. It was a joy to perceive the singer’s blushes of surprise and pleasure when, as he paused for breath during the second ritornello (which was no more audible than the first), the audience broke into spontaneous applause, thinking this perplexing dumb show had spent itself.

Of the violin solo that followed, my lips are sealed more in pain than in anger, but I would render thanks to the committee that chose the work. A daring choice for May Week, for  though not exactly contemporary, the work might still be called modern by many of us. The Sonata da Camera in D minor of Ughellini is a good instance of the macabre funereal gaiety of the 17th century. The movements were: Maestoso, Adagio, and Lentissimo. All of this and more was driven home to us.

The concert ended with some choruses of Handel performed by the College Chorus and “Orchestra.” Lighting in College Halls is always arranged to be discreetly inadequate for soloists, but glaringly non-existent for a large body of players, and just so on this occasion. There was a pause in proceedings while a tumult of instrumentalists fought their way in and out of a tangle of wires and stands, and after darkness had been satisfactorily apportioned, and everyone had an excuse to play wrong notes, we began.

It is often hard to realise that such orchestras are formed principally by players from every other College but the one giving the concert, and that there has been little if any rehearsal. Tonight such a realisation was all too easy.

But all might have been well, had not a fire broken out in the piano—occasioned by a cigar-butt carelessly thrown away in the interval. In the ensuing eagerness to extinguish the flames, the platform bearing some of the basses (precarious at the best of times) collapsed, hurtling half a dozen lusty youths into the woodwind. No bones were broken.

Incidentally, worse damage had already been sustained by several persons in the interval, during a panic of empty stomachs towards the buffet.

But generally speaking, it is not often that the ideal concert is achieved, and if this account has shown what to aim for, my pains will have been rewarded. Someone has rightly said, a thing worth doing badly is worth doing extremely badly.

Peter Tranchell