No other small festival could have brought a more interesting array of artists and a more interesting selection of music to the public than Honiton’s 2010 event. It is remarkable that this small country town in Devon has been able to provide such first class fare for both local music lovers and those from further afield, and this it has now been doing since 1988.
The tiny, neighbouring village of Cotleigh was the scene for the intriguing opening concert by Sirinu, a small group playing ancient instruments from the lute to the hurdy gurdy. They sang and played, in an infectious way, music which provided a celebration of Shakespeare’s England which they called, appropriately, From Bawds to Bards. Being the first event in the festival, the concert was preceded by a reception at nearby Cotleigh House, with the added interest of an antiques valuation.
Moving to St. Paul’s Parish Church in Honiton itself, the next concert brought the acclaimed chamber ensemble of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. In their programme, together with the ever popular Trout Quintet of Schubert, and the G minor, K.478 Quartet of Mozart, was a rarely heard early work by Mahler – his Piano Quartet movement in A minor.
Two young artists, stepping out at the beginning of their careers provided the first of the popular lunchtime concerts. The Finnish violinist Laura Virtanen with pianist James Baillieu mixed the familiar, with Beethoven’s Spring Sonata and Schumann’s A minor Sonata, alongside an intriguing rarity. It is not well known that Ravel wrote a second violin sonata other than the one completed in 1927 that we usually hear, but thirty years earlier he penned another which was not published until the Ravel Centenary in 1975. With its classical architecture it provided some interesting pointers to and comparisons with the later work.
Pianist John Lill, the patron for this year’s festival, and described as the leading British pianist of his generation, was a great draw, bringing a capacity audience. He brought his years of experience to a programme of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, culminating in a tremendous performance of Liszt’s very challenging B minor Sonata.
The second lunchtime concert, with an excellent lunch available beforehand, was given by the prize-winning Piatti Quartet. They are rapidly emerging as the country’s leading young quartet giving impressive performances wherever they appear. Honiton was no exception, where they offered two well loved works – Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet and Beethoven’s Harp.
To complete this year’s festival the European Union Chamber Orchestra, a regular visitor, brought a concert that illustrated The Brilliance of Baroque. The former BBC Young Musician of the Year, cellist Natalie Clein, was the star of this concert in a winning performance of Boccherini’s G major Concerto and, together with Eva Freitag, who stepped from the orchestra, in Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor.
Directed from the first desk by Hans-Peter Hofmann, the orchestra also offered impeccable accounts of Mozart’s K.137 Divertimento, Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto and a Concerto Grosso from Handel’s Opus 6.
With its enthusiastic following, the Honiton Festival continues to thrive and should have a great future.