Twenty years after it was founded, the 2008 Honiton Festival reached a new peak of success. The range of artists of international repute brought to this small Devon market town was quite outstanding and, in turn, it brought visitors from far and wide. For two weeks in May Honiton became the musical Mecca, not only of East Devon, but of the whole area.
And every one of the musicians gave superb performances. Little less could be expected of Emma Johnson, one of the world’s top clarinettists, who joined the Harpham Quartet in searching accounts of the sensuously beautiful Clarinet Quintets by Mozart and Brahms. It was events like this that brought a capacity audience to the church of St. Paul’s, with its excellent acoustic.
Well known pianist Freddy Kempf, a former Young Musician of the Year, like Emma Johnson, came to the festival in a less familiar role, as a duo partner with German violinist Katje Laemermann. Their programme kept strictly to the Viennese classical and romantic repertoire with sonatas by Schubert and Brahms, and Beethoven’s mighty Kreutzer. Their seemingly effortless performance reflected the perfect rapport between the two musicians.
A really outstanding event was the recital by famous countertenor James Bowman and leading lutenist Dorothy Linell. Given in Cotleigh village church, following a reception at Cotleigh House, their programme of songs and lute music from Elizabethan and Stuart England, together with the Italian influences then to be found, was absolutely fascinating. The informality of the event, reflecting the domestic nature of music by such greats of the time as Dowland, Campion and Thomas Ford, added to the pleasure of the evening.
The two lunchtime recitals again were sheer delight.
The Rautio Piano Trio, one of the finest young trios in the country, had a truly international line-up, with Russian pianist Jan Rautio, English violinist Jane Gordon and Israeli cellist Idi Tal. They included in their programme works by Fauré and Brahms.
The second lunchtime recital brought a captivating performance by the young Shanghai born pianist Wu Qian. She opened with Beethoven’s penultimate Piano Sonata, the one in A flat, Op.110 intended to bring out the new sonorities, colours and dynamics of the composer’s new Broadwood piano which he referred to as a hammerklavier. His intentions were ably carried out. Then followed Chopin’s Ballade No.4 in F and a stunning performance of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.12.
Something rather different was an illustrated talk given by Minnie Churchill on The Life of Winston Churchill through his Paintings. This was accompanied by wine and canapés.
The final concert brought a fine Scandinavian orchestra to the platform. Musica Vitae Chamber Orchestra, one of Sweden’s leading ensembles accompanied the great British cellist Graham Johnston in an immaculate performance of Haydn’s First Cello Concerto. They also included two well known suites for strings, the St. Paul’s, of Gustav Holst, and the Holberg, of Grieg. But there was also something new in the Music for Strings by the avant-garde Swedish composer Ingvar Lidholm.
This final concert reflected the huge success of the whole 2008 festival.