This year the Honiton Festival was reduced to just four concerts, held over two weekends. Again Honiton’s St. Paul’s Church provided an acoustically near perfect venue for the two lunchtime concerts, while there were ventures out to the village church at Cotleigh, and the beautiful Parish Church at Ottery St. Mary for the evening concerts. The programme provided an interesting mixture of musical fare provided by two stalwarts of the concert scene and two brilliant up-and-coming young players who have already made their mark.
Festival President, counter-tenor James Bowman, making a second appearance at the event and now winding down his long career in early music, gave the first recital.
Following a reception at Cotleigh House the audience was entranced by a ‘joyous evening of songs and readings from Elizabethan England’ during which lutenist Lynda Sayce provided accompaniments and instrumental solos, and choice readings came from Alfred Bradley. Of course, John Dowland, England’s greatest lutenist composer, loomed large in the programme, but there were other names, familiar and less familiar, from that great age of England’s music when everyone of note, it seems, was able to play an instrument, or sing. Thomas Campion and Thomas Ford, Orlando Gibbons, Jeremiah Clarke and Richard Farrant were there, as well as lesser names such as Edward Johnson and Michael Cavendish, and their songs were rendered with such an authoritative feel for the period.
The first of the lunchtime concerts, following the excellent lunch always available, was given by the brilliant young clarinettist Julian Bliss who joined the Cavalieri Quartet in those two mainstays of such ensembles – the Clarinet Quintets by Mozart and Brahms. These works rarely fail to enthuse an audience and this occasion was no exception as they were played with panache and deep feeling. The quartet completed the programme with a satisfying performance of Haydn’s Sunrise Quartet (Op.76, No.4)
New Zealand violinist Ben Baker, also making a second visit to the Festival, with Russian pianist Petr Limonov, gave an outstanding display of technical brilliance in Paganini’s Introduction, Theme and variations on ’Nel cor piu non mi sento’ for solo violin. He was faced with every possible hazard with rapid runs in thirds, fifths, octaves, and even tenths, and elaborate harmonics and spiccati arpeggios. To add to the problems Paganini also required left-hand pizzicato in this virtuoso showpiece which was thrown off with aplomb in this incredible performance. In comparison Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.4 in A, Op.23, and Schumann’s Fantasie in C, Op.131 seemed to be tame fare, but here was great music which could not be surpassed by virtuosic showmanship.
For the final concert it was another veteran and showman of the concert platform, the renowned, inimitable trumpet player Crispian Steele-Perkins, who thrilled a large audience. He brought along his small group of Baroque musicians, who style themselves the Handel Players, to join him in a fascinating group of seventeenth and eighteenth century works most of which featured the trumpet. Handel and Purcell were represented, not always with their most familiar works, and there were others such as Stradella, Albinoni and Vivaldi. Crispian has a marvellous, friendly stage presence and he loves to talk to his audience and speak about his various historical trumpets, and so everyone went away so much the wiser having heard the various trumpets from the hosepipe to today’s modern valved instrument.
Short this year’s Festival may have been, but it was well up to standard, bringing great artists and great music to East Devon.