An excellent series of evening and lunchtime concerts throughout the autumn and winter kept the Honiton Festival in the forefront of music lovers’ minds. With an excellent variety of ensembles on offer the standards of this outstanding festival were well maintained. This time the season brought two evening concerts and three at lunchtime.
In October the famous European Union Chamber Orchestra were in St. Paul’s Church for an evening concert. With lively direction from the first desk by Matthias Wollong, who also holds the post of first concert master of the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Bayreuth Festival, the orchestra gave an impeccable account of Divertimenti by Haydn and Mozart, German Dances by Schubert and an Adagio by Mozart. However, the highlight of the programme was a performance of Bach’s A minor Violin Concerto with local sixteen year old Marie Langrishe as soloist. She gave a very satisfying performance and one which augurs well for a great future.
The first of the lunchtime concerts, preceded by one of those excellent buffet lunches which are a feature of these occasions, was given by three members of the Berkeley Ensemble – clarinetist John Slack, cellist Gemma Wareham, and pianist Christopher White. The repertoire for clarinet trios is not extensive but they chose to play two of the greatest: Beethoven’s B flat, and Brahms’ A minor. No audience, as on this occasion, could fail to be swayed by such mellifluous works.
To start the new year brilliant 23 year old Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu graced the stage in January. With an already established concert career in the major cities of the world she appears regularly as both a soloist, chamber music player and as a concerto soloist. She chose to play Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit which mirrors the composer’s obsession with the world of dreams and the enchantment of the world of fairies and spectral creatures. With demons, ghosts and the supernatural being the subjects of the three movements, she gave a suitably ‘eerie’ performance. Coming back to the real world, she gave a magnificent account of Schubert’s great Sonata in C minor, D.958.
It was the turn of an outstanding Japanese violinist, Naoko Miyamoto, partnered by pianist Simon Lane, for the February concert. They gave immaculate performances of the Ravel Sonata, with its stylized jazz rhythms, and one of the finest violin sonatas of its day, the F major Sonata by Mendelssohn. As an encore, the technically searching Introduction and Tarantella by the great 19th. century violinist Pablo Sarasate brought the recital to a dazzling end.
A very first for the Festival was the Opera Gala in March when three members of English Touring Opera sang arias and ensembles from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Puccini’s La Bohème, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Handel’s Ariodante and Janácek’s Katya Kabanova. Soprano Jane Harrington, tenor Michael Bracegirdle and Bass Piotr Lempa, together with pianist Sergey Rybin, delighted an enthusiastic audience with some fine singing. The concert came to an end all too quickly and so did this excellent interim series of concerts between the main May festivals.