The Honiton Festival has again made sure that the cause of classical music was kept alive in this small Devon town during the winter months between the main May festival events. It is a festival that has become the main focus of music throughout east Devon, and beyond. Again music lovers were well served by the programmes on offer during the autumn and winter of 2011/2012 with an eclectic mix of music, given by fine young musicians in the town’s St. Paul’s Church, with its excellent acoustics.
The series was opened by the up-and-coming young pianist Sam Armstrong who is rapidly making a name for himself. He opened his recital with Schubert’s great A major Sonata and continued with those beautiful products of Brahms’ later years, his Op.116 Fantasies. And there were a couple of Debussy Études, but the most interesting item in the programme was Alban Berg’s Op.1 Sonata with its Schoenbergian influences. How good it was to hear this rarely performed work.
Oboist James Turnbull and pianist Craig White formed an impressive duo in the second concert on November 25. The rather acerbic and piercing tone of the oboe can pall during an extended recital, but not on this occasion, for there was plenty of variety in the choice of music and the exemplary playing to be heard in a well-chosen programme. It opened with a Handel sonata and ended with Daelli’s Fantasia on Verdi’s Rigoletto. Himself a virtuoso oboist, Daelli made sure that those who undertook the task of playing his music were stretched to the limit and the listeners were left in wonderment at the required musical gymnastics of the player. The duo also played Schumann’s three Op.94 Romances, the technical difficulties of which the composer feared may make oboists shy away from them; the sonata by Saint-Saëns, dating from the last year of his long life; and the delightful Studies in English Folksong by Vaughan Williams.
February 2012 brought the Japanese violinist Yuka Ishizuka to the stage, with pianist Simon Lane, standing in at short notice for the Israeli Nadav Hertzka. A very talented duo, both players impressed with their grasp of the music on offer, which included Grieg’s C minor Sonata, a work very dramatic and profound. Mozart’s K.378 Sonata opened proceedings and the popular Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso of Saint-Saëns brought things to a close in spectacular fashion.
The big disappointment of this autumn/winter series was the Opera Gala, featuring members of English Touring Opera – soprano Cheryl Enever, tenor Adam Tunnicliffe and baritone Cozmin Sime, with pianist Tim Carey. These were obviously not principals of the company and singing was not always of top quality, but above all, the audience felt short-changed by the shortness of the concert. With an all- Russian programme, including excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, and Queen of Spades, and a second half consisting of Rachmaninov songs, the whole seemed a rather dreary experience, with no light relief, and not what the audience had hoped for.