Summer 2019 Reviews

Triple Concert, Castle Howard, July 12

What a splendid idea: three fine concerts, performed three times, the audience all moving on during the intervals. This year’s Ryedale Festival is off to an auspicious start.

In Castle Howard’s Baroque-meets-Arts and Crafts chapel, young vocal group Echo, directed by Sarah Latto, gave a fittingly diverse potpourri of old and new sacred miniatures, with the odd improvisation thrown in. The group’s versatility, graceful musicality and the individuality of their voices yielded bright-eyed energy, which suited the space.

Under the central dome in the Great Hall, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts took a Grand Tour of 16th and 17th-century music from England via Spain and Germany to Venice, interspersed with appropriate solos from organist William Whitehead.

The aural splendour, the bright, mesmerising tone, the relaxed virtuosity – and the occasional humour and rustic joyousness – produced by this long-established group were a delight.

It was a nice touch that all three concerts began with Purcell: a theme of this year’s festival. In the Long Gallery, the Elias Quartet enlarged this idea by continuing with Benjamin Britten’s prodigious Purcellian homage, his String Quartet no.2. With deeply felt ebb and flow, the work’s thematic unity and inventive structure were made crystal clear. From the first movement’s relaxed opening gesture to the tumult of its reprise, through the second movement’s muted obsessiveness and the Chacony’s strongly characterised variations and consummately realised virtuoso cadenzas, it reached a tumultuous C major exultation. A performance to treasure.

Robert Gammon, York Press

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Hovingham Hall, July 14

Summer seemed finally to have arrived on Sunday evening, as it somehow does whenever the Ryedale Festival returns. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) are old friends here and took to the old riding school like a duck to water, revelling in its warm acoustic with an all-Bach programme.

The First Orchestral Suite is in reality a triple concerto for two oboes and bassoon. OAE’s trio were at the top of their game, dancing their way through several minefields with gay abandon. In particular, the oboes’ ornamentation was superbly synchronised. Their bassoonist colleague subjected his natural virtuosity to their needs, listening acutely. The result was stunning.

The same combination was involved in the Sinfonia to Cantata no.42, which sets a glorious evening scene, with throbbing chords under the gently undulating woodwinds. OAE played it lovingly enough to have us believe it to be one of Bach’s great undiscovered masterpieces.

OAE’s leader, Kati Debretzeni, was soloist in the Second Violin Concerto, shading her phrases beautifully even at high speed. She also found magical serenity in the Adagio.

The Double Violin Concerto, BWV 1043, with Margaret Faultless and Matthew Truscott leading in fine-spun dialogue, found the remaining players equally at ease with its unrelenting demands.

The Second Suite, essentially a flute concerto, enjoyed Lisa Beznosiuk’s nimble expertise. Her tempos were rapid – almost too much in the Badinerie – but right from the opening fugue, her colleagues remained cool, maintaining smooth, world-class ensemble.

Martin Dreyer, York Press

The Wind In The Willows, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, July 14

Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s novel makes ideal fare for a musical, here described as community opera. Richard Shephard’s shapely tunes are so ideally suited to David Horlock’s ingenious lyrics that their opera falls somewhere between pantomime and Gilbert & Sullivan, only panto never had music as good as this nor G & S any animals.

Professional actors may have taken the leading roles, but the stars of this show were the ferrets, stoats and weasels played by 20 children. Not only did they sing with clarity and commitment, they were equally well-drilled in the choreography by Drew and Hannah Wintie-Hawkins. Jack Hambleton excelled in the Field Mouse solo.

The central foursome was led by the irrepressible Toad of Harry Hart, a car-crash in human form, judging by the frightening noises off. A Toad In A Hole was the hit of the show. His cross-dressing as a washerwoman, like a pantomime dame, was hilarious. It also gave the show its audience song, which needed a touch more rehearsal.

Toad’s comeuppance was slickly handled by George Attwell Gerhards as Ratty, smartly sporting a white blazer and boater, deftly accompanied by Mick Liversidge’s cheery Badger, locally accented, and Florrie Stockbridge’s woebegone Mole. All Tabitha Grove’s costumes evoked the 1920s or 1930s.

A wind sextet with percussion, double bass and piano played with immense assurance under Eamonn Dougan, who found time to take to the stage as an old-style copper. A really fun afternoon.

Directed by Em Whitfield Brooks, Shephard’s community opera also was staged at Kirk Theatre, Pickering, on July 13.

Martin Dreyer, York Press

An Italian Songbook, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, July 16

The 46 songs of Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook can rarely have sounded as immediate and topical as they did in this semi-staged version devised by Jeremy Sams and Christopher Glynn. The slightly stilted German of over a century ago emerged in colloquial English as if freshly minted, at the hands of five singers whose theatrics matched their voices.

First, however, a special word for Glynn, whose piano provided vivid and intelligent commentary unceasingly over a 75-minute span. The songs deal with love in all its guises. Time and again we were able to anticipate amatory emotions from the keyboard cues Glynn provided. He simplified the singers’ task immensely.

Sams and his co-director Louise Shephard introduced shades of Mozart’s Così fan tutte into their narrative: Roderick Williams played the role of mediating philosopher Don Alfonso. His firm, warm baritone radiated reassurance, as he cajoled the other two men into courage with the fairer sex, before finally lamenting his own solitude once he had seen them successfully paired off.

We needed no printed texts. What the piano did not tell us became rivetingly clear from the singers’ expressions, both facial and vocal. Rowan Pierce, in particular, sported a witty variety of faces to match her fluent soprano, closely rivalled by her moodier, mezzo colleague Katie Bray. Nicky Spence (tenor) and James Newby (baritone) successfully won through the ladies’ disdain to provide the happy ending we all hoped for.

Martin Dreyer, York Press

Enlightened Hovingham

Yorkshire is a big county and Ryedale but a small part of it, but this beautiful parcel of North Yorkshire certainly has a place of prominence in the cultural landscape.

Hot on the heels of the York Festival of Early Music comes the Ryedale Festival, running concurrently for a time with the Burton Agnes Jazz Festival. Truly there is a wealth of things to see and hear in these parts.

It began on Friday, 12th July, in Lastingham, with a morning performance of the first great English opera, Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, followed in the evening by a triple concert at Castle Howard. On Saturday, the acclaimed saxophonist, Jess Gillam, gave a recital in St Peter’s Church, Norton.

The weekend culminated in Hovingham Hall, a beautifully Palladian building perfect for a night of Baroque, with a return visit from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Formed in 1986, they are the resident orchestra of the Southbank Centre, London, with close associations with, not least, Glyndebourne Festival Opera. A little larger on this occasion than a chamber-scale ensemble, they treated the audience to five pieces by JS Bach. 

The OAE does not have a principal conductor and the leadership when the orchestra is performing elsewhere is commonly shared between three musicians, one of whom, violinist Matthew Truscott, concertmaster of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, made a bravura contribution to Bach’s Concerto for two violins in the unusually contemplative key of D Minor, that the composer also used in his incomplete work The Art of Fugue. (It is, of course, also that of Beethoven’s Ninth.)

Most of the works dated from when Bach was Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, writing very largely for the court, at the end of the first decade of the eighteenth-century and beginning of the following. A happy, productive period, Bach wrote some of his most light-hearted pieces while seeming to retain a nobly rigid structure. The concert featured the first two of the four orchestral suites, both of which begin with stately overtures before gaining pace and lightness, capturing the spirit of dance.

The Violin Concerto Number Two was a joyous thing, spiralling into life with a rising triad ushering in the most beautiful of melodies. The Adagio seemed to cast a spell over the Riding School which was at capacity. Afterwards everyone streamed out into the sunshine during the intermission and, on the day that England had won the Cricket World Cup, some strolled over to the wicket of this most beautiful of cricket grounds, contemplating the green and the pleasant – and wondering if it might take turn.

Though relatively small in number, this version of the OAE was full of vivacity and sparkle and lost nothing of the composer’s immensely rich orchestral textures. It was a wonderfully enlightened night.

The Orchestra of The Age of Enlightenment appeared at Hovingham Hall on Sunday, 14th July.

Andrew Liddle, Features Writer, Yorkshire Times

Dido & Aeneas, All Saints’ Church, Helmsley, July 17

The music of Henry Purcell is enjoying a special focus in this festival, which has offered a perfect excuse for Dido and Aeneas to be the main operatic adventure. That it should be staged in three of Ryedale’s loveliest churches, this being the third, made it additionally attractive.

Inevitably, given the confines of a chancel, there were no props or scenery. It mattered not. The music-making here was uniformly high class, as you would expect under the direction of Eamonn Dougan (although he did not conduct). Monica Nicolaides’ management of movement and choreography was equally adept. She ensured that the action remained expeditious and clear-cut despite the confined spaces.

At first, Jess Dandy’s soprano as Dido seemed too full-bodied for a role which is often entrusted to flute-toned singers. But she grew into the drama and by the time she delivered the last line of ‘When I am laid in earth’, she had refined her resonance down almost to a whisper. It was breath-taking.

Charlotte Shaw’s Belinda, in striking fuchsia, made a refreshing contrast, light-voiced, lively, even carefree, just what a burdened friend needs. Peter Edge’s confident baritone made for an aptly self-regarding Aeneas, never likely to confine himself to home comforts. Rosamond Thomas was a bewitching Sorceress, who later hovered over proceedings from the organ loft.

The chorus, sometimes masked, was consistently forthright, its members taking solo cameos confidently, and a vivid quintet accompanied impeccably. Magical. 

Martin Dreyer, York Press

Mario Häring, St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Pickering and Duncombe Park, July 17 and 18

The German-Japanese pianist Mario Häring, runner-up in the Leeds Piano Competition last year, has been keeping busy in Ryedale, with two recitals separated only by a night’s sleep.

On Wednesday evening, he played late chamber music of Brahms with three others. On Thursday morning, he played Debussy and Schumann on his own. He is nothing if not versatile.

In his three Estampes, Debussy steps away from impressionism to something more boldly delineated, even pictorial, as its title implies (‘prints’ or ‘engravings’). Häring was clearly alive to this, but he balanced his strong opening to Pagodes with delicate filigrees later. His colours in an evening in Grenada were equally distinctive. But Gardens in the Rain was more storm-drenched than showery.

In the Children’s Corner suite, Haring’s textures were always clear, even among the swirling snow. He found welcome gentleness in Serenade for the Doll, but crisp syncopation in Golliwogg’s Cakewalk.

The full extent of his virtuosity emerged in Schumann’s Carnaval. His opening alone was scrappy. Thereafter, amid invariably fast tempos, he delivered miraculously clean staccato, even where cross-rhythms challenged. Best of all, he not only played the usually omitted code letters (ASCH), but brought out their presence throughout the suite, which he built to a dazzling conclusion.

In Brahms On Holiday the previous evening – three pieces from a Swiss summer in 1886 – he was intermittently too resolute for his colleagues, so that one wished the piano-lid had been on the short stick rather than wide open. Stepping in at the 11th hour, Bartholomew LaFollette’s cello was masterful in the Sonata, op.99, matching Häring blow for blow: a little pugilistic, perhaps, but undeniably exciting.

Häring combined more tenderly with Tamsin Waley-Cohen’s violin in the op.100 sonata. Sensitive throughout, her tone became ever more ravishing as she relaxed. Camille Thomas’s cello joined them for the op.101 Trio. At first the strings were not keen to match Häring’s volatility, but in the finale they eventually melded triumphantly. All’s well that ends well.

Martin Dreyer, York Press

Brahms in Pickering

It’s difficult to believe but it’s going on fifteen years now since Tamsin Waley-Cohen burst into recognition, taking the coveted honour of String Player of the Year in 2005. Since then she has gone on to win much acclaim, not to mention so many other awards, not only for her prodigious talent on violin but her venturesome approach to working with Britain’s leading orchestras and her own chamber ensemble, Honeymead. Much in demand at international festivals, she brought glamour and genius to a July evening in Ryedale.

Johannes Brahms, responsible for some of the most beautiful chamber music ever written, often found inspiration on holiday. . . He completed the peerless Violin Sonata in A – which we heard tonight – during the summer of 1886, while taking the air in Thun, in the Bernese Oberland. Intoxicated by the scenery, he composed three of his greatest chamber works here and this concert, a highlight of the Ryedale Festival, provided a rare and wonderful opportunity to hear them together.

Accompanied most sensitively by Berlin-based Mario Häring, on piano, Waley-Cohen set the pulses racing with the breathless luminosity of her playing, passionate yet controlled, flamboyant but not extroverted, from the first movement to the surging D minor finale, modulating from fragile vibrato to fully cascading passion. She took us on an emotional roller-coaster.

Cellist Bartholomew LaFollete, who has worked with a host of fine performers, not least Christian Tetzlaff, Alina Ibragimova and our own Anthony Marwood, had begun the evening in fine feather with the Cello Sonata no.2, in F. So much more exuberant than its brooding, haunting predecessor, it’s an easy inference that the holiday was proving efficacious for Brahms’s health and humour. As the allegro vivace burst into life, LaFollete’s face was fierce with concentration, his breathing heavy, living the apparent strain of the composer’s emotional outbursts. During the adagio, his expression became almost beatific, eyes looking to the heavens, a pose full of longing and wonder. The obvious gestalt that existed between cello and piano suggested either much practice together or the immediate rapport of great musicians – or both.

The final item after the interval brought on stage a rising star, Franco-Belgian, Camille Thomas, a cellist with a remarkable touch and tone. A faultless trio with piano and violin was thus formed – and they made light work of the rousingly confrontational elements of the piece, Häring’s bright, ringing tone resonating warmly within the warm acoustic of the crowded St Peter and St Paul’s, Pickering Parish Church. The superb, extremely rare collection of mediaeval paintings, which have lined the venerable walls for half a millennium, looked on. They must have witnessed a good deal worth telling – but doubtless they cannot brag about music better than this.

Brahms on Holiday was part of the Ryedale Festival, in St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Pickering, on 17th July.

Andrew Liddle, Features Writer, Yorkshire Times

Sarah Connolly/Christopher Glynn, Duncombe Park, July 18

In what was arguably the most prestigious event of the entire festival, Dame Sarah Connolly’s rich mezzo-soprano illuminated Duncombe Park in an evening of Brahms and Schumann lieder balanced by songs of Bridge, Gurney and Britten. The festival’s own Christopher Glynn was her versatile pianist.

Connolly’s commitment captures the essence of a song within a few bars of its opening. In Brahms’s Feldeinsamkeit (Alone in the fields), we immediately sensed her lying in the long grass gazing up at the blue sky. It is a miniature and she treated it intimately. Von ewiger Liebe (Of Eternal Love) is at the other end of the spectrum, a big, bold declaration of love. Here her passion was unrestrained, the voice noble, majestic.

Schumann’s cycle, ‘A Woman’s Life and Love’, brought us all the moods of love: the simplicity of new love, the incredulousness of being her lover’s chosen one, the intimacy of her conversation with her wedding ring, all swept towards ‘aller meine Lust’ (all my joy). Then there was a change, a dream of motherhood, before the infinite sadness of the lover’s death. I swear she wiped away a tear here. So did we.

Two Bridge settings of Tagore were beautifully elongated, as she penetrated links between nature and humanity. Gurney’s Sleep rocked delicately, preparing nicely for the maternal variety of Britten’s cycle ‘A Charm of Lullabies’, which closed in a marvellous sotto voce. Glynn remained a faithful companion.

Martin Dreyer, York Press

Roxanna Panufnik, Helmsley Arts Centre, July 21

Ryedale’s happy tradition of having a composer in residence continues this year with Roxanna Panufnik, who is on record as saying that she writes what she likes to listen to. That sums up her refreshing, down-to-earth approach, something we can all identify with.

In interview with Katy Hamilton, she came across as friendly and warm-hearted, revelling in her success without letting it go to her head. We knew we would like her music before we had heard a note of it. Seven musicians including the young Treske Ensemble – a string quartet – were on hand to offer a representative sampling.

Second Home, based on a Polish folk-song, uses a mainly slow pulse and dark colours to speak of late-blooming violets in the forest. A seemingly innocent chord in string quartet and piano melted into change; textures grew angry and staccato before regaining calm. Rosamond Thomas’s rich mezzo did the rest.

Thomas also sang Virtue, a duet with Michael Pandya’s piano, which was written in memory of Roxanna’s father Sir Andrzej Panufnik, also a composer, who died in 1991. The piano’s insistent thrum injected new life into the George Herbert poem. Love Sought added Ben Kearsley’s eloquent viola to this pairing, which most effectively evoked Viola’s soliloquy from Twelfth Night. Thomas handled its flowing lines majestically.

Reports by the BBC’s Fergal Keane underlay Letters from Burma (2004), for oboe and string quartet, where James Turnbull joined the Treskes. Its opening was deceptive, with oboe winding plaintively over string chords. ‘Snaps’ in the strings conjured prisoners beating on their cages. The whole quintet then danced, the tessitura getting ever higher and more manic, ending in an abrupt unison to powerful effect.

Martin Dreyer, York Press

Julian Bliss/Carducci Quartet, Duncombe Park and St Peter’s, Norton, July 19 and 21

Ace clarinettist Julian Bliss is not officially an artist in residence at Ryedale Festival, but he has played an important part.

At Duncombe, he and pianist Christopher Glynn were the backbone of a coffee concert centred on Brahms. In Norton, he joined the Carducci string quartet in Weber’s quintet and distinctive works by David Bruce and Roxanna Panufnik.

Bliss and Glynn rode the tidal waves that open Brahms’s First Clarinet Sonata nonchalantly, before settling more intimately into a serene adagio, a chirpy scherzo and a witty finale. Cellist Camille Thomas joined them in the Clarinet Trio, intensifying the sense of romantic yearning encapsulated in the first movement (originally intended as the opening of a fifth symphony).

Cello dominated the song-like arioso that followed. Balance was at its best in the charming andantino with its two trios, and the brief finale was wonderfully stormy. Rosalind Ventris was the fluent if mildly self-effacing soloist in three Clara Schumann romances, for viola and piano, which were in turn autumnal and rhapsodic. We ought to hear more of Clara. Jess Dandy brought a robust mezzo to the two lieder, Op 91, developing a shapely vocal line.

Bliss and the Carduccis raised the roof with David Bruce’s Gumboots (2008), which refers to South African labourers’ footwear in flooded gold mines. Its innocent opening, with bass clarinet, is deceptively calm. What follows, with normal clarinet, is a whacky dance that grows increasingly wild, with jazzy syncopation, crazy cross-rhythms, trills and eventually all three together. The enjoyment of all five of these brilliant players was irresistibly infectious.

Bliss’s virtuosity shone through Weber’s Clarinet Quintet. His ultra-soft chromatic runs took the breath away. Weber’s irrepressible gaiety, despatched with immense panache, made this one of the festival’s most deeply enjoyable pieces. In between, Roxanna Panufnik’s Modlitwa was a beautiful, elegiac contrast.

Martin Dreyer, York Press

Orsino Ensemble and Katya Apekisheva, Castle Howard, July 24

In last night’s Ryedale Festival world premiere at Castle Howard, the piece wasn’t new – Rachmaninov’s Second Suite for two pianos – but the arrangement for piano and wind quintet, commissioned from Iain Farrington, was.

Farrington hasn’t simply borrowed one of Rachmaninov’s piano parts and arranged the other. By sophisticated reorganisation, he has constructed a convincing work that succeeds on its own terms. Like the original, performing it is not for the faint hearted; Katya Apekisheva and the Orsino Ensemble, comprising some of Britain’s leading wind players, possess the necessary technical prowess.

After conveying desolation, defiance, then acceptance and consolation in the Romance, these performers made the Tarantella finale into the terrifying dance of death it should be. Here, incandescent playing raised the temperature of an already-sultry evening. The faster movements were played so thrillingly swiftly that the chap turning Katya Apekisheva’s pages didn’t have time to sit down!

Other works in the all-Russian programme were similarly engaging. Glinka’s early Trio for piano, clarinet and bassoon filled a convivial quarter of an hour despite its title Pathétique: its scherzo positively glittered. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Quintet for piano and wind, whose finale’s whimsy can be too much of a good thing, was delightfully entertaining.

These musicians clearly relish each other’s company. They pick up on so many innate little musical cues, and collaborate so naturally and instinctively, that the audience feels drawn as conspirators into the creative musical process: what a privilege!

Robert Gammon, York Press

Imogen Cooper, Ryedale Festival, Duncombe Park, July 26

Friday night’s concert had all the ingredients expected of a successful Ryedale Festival event: an unusual venue, a beautiful room with a sell-out audience, interesting repertoire, and a first-rate musician.

Pianist Imogen Cooper started with Schubert, in many ways her international calling card. She brought to his late Piano Sonata in A the sort of authority for which she is justly renowned.

The opening was aptly somewhat gruff, the articulation artfully leavened with little touches of pedal; on its eventual return, the same passage was given a much richer treatment, lending added meaning to the austere stillness of the contrasting second theme. The cyclic – almost symphonic – element was clear, too, the affinities between the work’s first theme, the trio section of the scherzo, and its very ending deftly revealed.

Liszt’s idiomatic solo arrangement of the ‘Gretchen’ movement from his Faust Symphony was here an affectionate, delicate character study. The little ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ episode was delightfully bashful and innocent.

Highlights of Brahms’s late Fantasies op.116 included Cooper’s gentle steadfastness in no.2, her sensitivity no.4, and the marvellously voiced middle section of the last where the melody was kept absolutely seamless as it swapped between the hands.

The virtuosity required by the last page or so saw to it that the concert ended to well-deserved cheers. A thoughtfully chosen encore, the famous Waltz op.39 no.15 being Brahms at his most Schubertian, brought this rewarding concert full circle.

Robert Gammon, York Press