Since it was founded in 1988 the Honiton Festival had always been a biennial event, but 2007 brought change. This would have been a fallow year but there was so much support for more music that it was decided to stage a mini festival in May, followed by the usual lunchtime concerts in the following autumn, winter and spring. With an interesting programme, it proved to be a decision that was popular not only with the people of Honiton, but also with concert goers from far and wide.
May Mini Festival
Changing to the annual format was an innovation, but the programme also brought some innovative ideas with an antiques valuation evening in the beautiful gardens of Cotleigh House, followed by a concert of Baroque music, given by violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch and harpsichordist Matthew Halls, in the nearby village church. With the inclusion of such works as Biber’s Mystery Sonatas, played on authentic instruments, this was certainly an occasion for connoisseurs. The antiques theme continued with another first, the literary lunch at the Deerpark Hotel, when the speaker was Bunny Campione, one of the experts from the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. For the first time a guided walk of the town and a display of bell-ringing from the tower of St. Paul’s Church were also included in the schedule.
But it was, of course, the music that came top of the agenda, and at the very top the excellent concert by the Euoropean Union Chamber Orchestra with playing of an exceptional standard in works by Telemann, Handel and Bach – the great Double Violin Concerto. There was also music by Mozart, Grieg and Britten. Disaster was averted at the lunchtime concert when pianist Nicholas Walker was able to step in at the last moment to replace the Chagall Quartet which had to pull out because of injury to its cellist. He gave sparkling performances of works by Beethoven, Chopin, and the Russians Balakirev and Glinka.
With this very successful mini-festival still fresh in the memory, it was time for the series of lunchtime recitals in St. Paul’s Church. The excellent light lunches on offer beforehand always provided a suitable prelude to the musical fare to follow. It was the Harpham String Quartet who gave the first with searching performances of two of the best known quartets in the repertoire – Mozart’s E flat major, K.428, and Schubert’s A minor, D.804, known as the Rosamunde because of its use of the beautiful slow movement theme from his incidental music for the play Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus. Flautist Fiona Slominska and harpist Louise Thomson graced the platform for the second concert with winning performances of a varied programme with works by C.P.E. Bach, Mozart and Donizetti, but also lesser known composers such as Hendrik Andriessen and William Alwyn.
The third and last concert brought a packed church and what was perhaps the biggest audience ever seen at the festival. They came to see and hear the brilliant young New Zealand born violinist Ben Baker, with pianist Julian Dyson in a programme that included Tartini’s Devil’s Trill Sonata, Beethoven’s Spring Sonata, and Elgar’s Sonata.
They did not disappoint.
This excellent year for the Honiton Festival certainly augurs well for the future.