The name of the Honiton Festival has been kept before concert-goers during the autumn and winter with a series of fascinating concerts given in St. Paul’s Church. Three of them were of the popular lunchtime format, preceded by an excellent buffet lunch in the narthex, and the final one an exciting Opera Gala held in the evening.

Dario Bonuccelli & Vlad Maistorovici

Opening the series, in October, were the up and coming young Rumanian violinist Vlad Maistorovici and Italian pianist Dario Bonuccelli. Maistorovici is a former pupil of the Yehudi Menuhin School and student of London’s Royal College of Music, while Bonunccelli studied at the Paganini Conservatoire in Genoa. Both are now enjoying recognition throughout Europe and the wider world.

In a very interesting programme the names of both Menuhin and Paganini loomed large. It was Yehudi Menuhin who ‘rediscovered’ Mendelssohn’s F major Sonata, and three Caprices, in arrangements by Szymanowski, and his own technically brilliant Introduction and Variations on I Palpiti, from Rossini’s Tancredi were the latter’s contribution to a stimulating occasion. The duo’s remaining offering was a nicely poised Sonatina by Schubert.

String Quartet
A young prize-winning string quartet which is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the most talented young ensembles in the country appeared for the December concert. Although the members of the Solstice Quartet have a great interest in new music it was two very familiar works from the classical and romantic repertoires that they brought to Honiton.

The Solstice Quartet

A very satisfying performance was given of Haydn’s Joke Quartet (Op.33, No.2). It was not until the very end of the work that Haydn brought in his joke by interpolating an unexpected slow and sentimental interlude near the end of this rondo finale, and with the constant long pauses before the final whisper as the quartet ends. Such a ‘joke’ would have been appreciated by Haydn’s audience and the Solstice players did their best to underline it in their performance.

They also offered Dvorák’s American Quartet, written in America in 1893 while he was there as director of the newly opened National Conservatory, in New York. The nostalgia of exile is very apparent in the piece and it was well realized by the members of the quartet, who were in very good form.

Cello and Piano
Nathaniel boyd and Simon Lane It was the turn of cello and piano in the February concert in the shape of Nathaniel Boyd and Simon Lane. Both are making swift progress in the concert world both as soloists with orchestras and as recitalists. Chopin’s rather sombre Sonata, which heralded what we might have expected from him had he lived beyond his 39 years, was framed by two sets of variations which brought humour to the fore. First there were Beethoven’s variations on Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in which the birdcatcher Papageno yearns for a maiden, or a woman, to be his own, otherwise he would die of grief. Then there were Martinu’s equally jolly variations on a theme from Rossini’s opera Mosè in Egitto (Moses in Egypt).

Both performers coped well with the rather frigid conditions and thawed out the audience, too.

Opera Gala
Andrew Slater, Michael Bracegirdle and Paula Sides Singers from English Touring Opera were the stars for the March Opera Gala. Soprano Paula Sides, bass-baritone Andrew Slater, and a last minute substitute because of illness, tenor Michael Bracegirdle, graced the stage. There were one or two inevitable changes in the programme, but all quite acceptable. The well-known duet from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers opened the evening, to be followed by arias and duets from Verdi’s La Traviata, and Rigoletto, and Puccini’s La Bohème. Andrew Slater’s choice of the Farewell from Wagner’s Die Walküre was well received. Bringing things more up-to-date were excerpts from two operas by Benjamin Britten – A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the ghostly Turn of the Screw. Those unfamiliar with Britten would have been surprised at the immediate appeal of these extracts.

To end there was something in lighter vein with that Richard Tauber favourite from Lehár’s Land of Smiles – the tenor aria You are my heart’s delight, and the ever popular waltz duet from his The Merry Widow.

The applause of a capacity audience brought an encore in the form of the trio from La Traviata.

John Dalton – March 2010