Although the 2012 May Festival events were again restricted to just six, the delightfully eclectic mix on offer again brought wide support from devotees. The parish church of St. Paul again provided an acoustically excellent venue, for all but one of the concerts, but the traditionally hard pews did cause some to crave for the opening of the new Beehive centre, with its promised concert hall.
As in the last few years, the opening concert, this year on May 10, was given in the parish church of the nearby village of Cotleigh. Following a reception at Cotleigh House, the Callino String Quartet ensured that the small village church was filled to capacity. These young players are winners of many international prizes and have held the position of resident quartet at the Banff Centre, Canada. They gave their Carnegie Hall debut at the invitation of the famous Kronos Quartet. Their popular programme was played with aplomb, starting with Haydn’s Emperor Quartet which incorporates the well- known tune adopted as the national anthem of both Germany and Austria, and which we, in Britain recognise as the tune sung to the hymn Glorious things of Thee are spoken.
Ravel’s F major String Quartet brought a complete contrast with its unusual tonal effects and sounds of Javanese gamelan music, before a return to the more familiar romantic sounds of Schubert’s glorious Death and the Maiden Quartet with its borrowing from his setting of the words by Matthias Claudius. From the opening challenges of the main theme, to the feverish climaxes which mark the final movement, this was the work which brought most acclaim.
Two days later came something very different when the inimitable Jacqui Dankworth, daughter of Sir John and Cleo Laine, took to the stage. Described by The Guardian as ’one of the classiest acts in British jazz’, she electrified a capacity audience with a wide variety of songs incorporating elements of blues, folk and many other jazzstyles. Her father’s compositions loomed large in her programme. She was ably accompanied at the piano by her husband, but there was a little disappointment that it was not her ‘stellar group of musicians’ that undertook this task, as suggested by the programme.
A change from music came with a lecture by Antiques Roadshow regular Lars Tharp, given at the auction rooms of Bearnes, Hampton, Littlewood. He gave his presentation the title The Dragon in the Punchbowl, referring to an artefact belonging to the great artist William Hogarth. As the Hogarth Curator and ambassador of London’s Foundling Museum, his talk gave, in fascinating detail, the story of Thomas Coram and the 27,000 children cared for at his hospital, not forgetting Handel’s connection with the museum.
Next it was the turn of one of Britain’s leading harpsichordists and pianists, Melvyn Tann. He has a formidable international reputation amply proved by his brilliant recital which opened with Bach’s Second English Suite and ended with Chopin’s Third Sonata, with its long lyrical and dramatic paragraphs. Sandwiched between were the eight Fantasiestücke of Robert Schumann, including free sequences of nocturnes, reveries, lyrical episodes and scherzos. It was a programme, and playing, which brought the house down with applause.
A lunchtime concert was given by the award winning young cellist Tim Lowe, with pianist James Baillieu. They introduced two lesser known pieces; the C minor Cello Sonata of Sant-Saëns, and the Op.17 Variations Concertantes of Mendelssohn which display extreme virtuosity and brilliance. There was also the short Romance Op.11 by Dvořák, originally for violin and piano. Although having only two movements, Beethoven’s C major Sonata (Op.102, No.1), was the most substantial work in an interesting programme.
To end the festival the European Union Chamber Orchestra made one of its regular visits. Directed by Hans-Peter Hofmann, they gave the stage to the young local violinist Marie Langrishe in Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto. She gave an accomplished performance which brought extended applause. Opening the concert was more Mozart in the form of his Divertimento in F major, K.138, an assured work from a sixteen year old composer. There was also the very popular Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber and, to end, a luxuriant account of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.