Despite restricting this year’s main Festival events in the traditional May period to just four concerts, with the addition of lunchtime recitals during the preceding Winter and Autumn, Honiton and Festival supporters from a wider area were not starved of a great offering of interesting serious music.
The Parish Church, with its great acoustics, but not so comfortable seats, was still the main venue until such time as the town’s new concert hall, the Beehive, becomes available in 2014.
The May Festival opened with a stunning recital by that great pianist Freddy Kempf. A former BBC young Musician of the Year he is now one of our most sort after recitalists and concerto soloists with a heavy schedule of concerts throughout Europe, America and the Far East. He chose to play an exacting programme, opening with Beethoven’s E major Sonata, Op.109. One of his final sonatas, it was designed for the most up-to-date piano then available. Its percussive action helped to provide the composer with the sonorities, dynamics and colours he was demanding in this late music, and Kempf brought out these qualities admirably.
Schumann’s Symphonic Studies. Op.13 followed and then his Op.7 Toccata, a dazzling piece and a virtuosic tour de force. The recital concluded with what is probably the most pictorial work ever written, Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. From the opening Gnomus to the final Great Gate of Kiev, this ‘walk’ through a gallery brought some stunning portrayals.
What is now becoming a traditional event, the reception at Cotleigh House preceded the harpsichord recital in the village church at Cotleigh. The homely atmosphere of this tiny building provided a great ambience for Steven Devine’s recital, even if it was a tight squeeze to fit in his instrument to the available space. His programme included two well-known favourites in Daquin’s le Coucou and Handel’s Fifth Keyboard Suite with its famous Harmonious Blacksmith variations. There were also some Scarlatti sonatas and to end, one of the greatest keyboard works of the Baroque, Bach’s Italian Concerto, played with great vitality.
Guitar & Chamber Ensemble
The Australian born guitarist Craig Ogden, one of the most exciting artists of his generation and one of the U.K’s most recorded musicians, delighted the Festival audience with a varied programme of music for his instrument. He went back to Dowland’s lute music and progressed through Bach, Sor and Giuliani to Spanish music by Albéniz and Turina, finishing with the present day and pieces by a fellow guitarist, Gary Ryan. His performance was enhanced by interesting explanations of guitar technique and anecdotes.
The final concert was given by members of the Berkeley Ensemble, a young group formed in 2008 and which has rapidly made its mark in the concert world. In the guise of a clarinet trio, they played two of the greatest works for the combination: Beethoven’s Clarinet Trio, Op.11 and Brahms’ Clarinet Trio in A minor, Op.114. Their finely poised performance brought the May Festival to an appropriate end.