It seems that every few years my personal entourage is added to by an extra member: first the Festival border collie Krishna; then the Festival wolfhound, Æthelwulf; then a husband; and now the Festival baby, Tristan, just 2 months old at this EMF. Needless to say it added an extra layer of complexity to logistics; but also an extra delight for both Rupert and myself, and also, it appeared, for audience members too! And I should here register publicly my thanks to Rev. Sue for so kindly hosting us in the Rectory – it made arrangements far easier to manage!
Friday morning and afternoon were, as usual, spent awaiting the arrival from the printers of programmes, as well as our new little book about composers and the First World War, Bugles Call; setting up the CD stall and box office; erecting banners and tables for members of our British Composer Organisation Scheme, and taking receipt from the manufacturers of our two most recent discs, The Fire that Breaks From Thee: violin concertos by Stanford and Milford, and A Forgotten Romantic: the piano music of Greville Cooke.
A talk by Andrew Neill on British composers and the First World War, apposite in this the centenary year of that terrible conflict, commenced proceedings, followed, on a lighter note, by the EMF Friends and VIP Garden Party, kindly hosted, as always, by Simon and Margaret Broadbent in the beautiful gardens of the Manor House. This year the sun again shone on us (seemingly emerging once more just for this one event!), and Friends, press and EMF Vice-Presidents, including Terry Waite and Paul Guinery, mingled over champagne and canapés. It was Tristan’s first public appearance, and he behaved very well indeed and charmed many a Friend!
Over, then, to the Abbey, where a numerous and anticipatory audience was waiting. Rev. Sue and I made our usual opening speeches, followed by BBC announcements (it was, again, a live broadcast), with Christopher Cook presenting the concert, and Martin Yates conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra. In true EMF tradition, we opened with Jerusalem, which was followed by the world première performance of Boughton’s Troilus and Cressida, and the Moeran Violin Concerto, with Rupert as soloist. It was a searing performance; absolutely exquisite. Brightwells as usual provided English wine to an exhilarated audience in the interval; then we all took our seats for the second half, consisting of entirely world première performances: Vaughan Williams’s Burley Heath and Harnham Down, and the hugely impressive Bax Variations for Orchestra. This substantial work, weighing in at half an hour, with the organ belting in at the end for just a few minutes, was adored by the audience, and everyone left feeling fulfilled and excited by a tremendously successful concert.
On Saturday morning, Tristan and I headed over to the Abbey for the morning recital, given by Duncan Honeybourne, of music by Greville Cooke, Archy Rosenthal, Gurney, Bridge and Farrar – tying in, in the main, with the most recent, and with the forthcoming, EM Records releases of this repertoire. The recital – and Duncan’s informative introductions, were much enjoyed by the audience. Our afternoon concert took place at Radley and was another pleasing event, featuring the songs of Charles Dibdin (of Tom Bowling fame), with Richard Fawkes as narrator, Alexander Knox and Gemma Summerfield the vocal soloists, and Tom Higgins accompanying. A range of songs from the more melancholic to the light-hearted showcased the talent of Dibdin and some of his contemporary composers. Back to Dorchester for the talk – given by Norman O’Neill’s granddaughter Katherine Jessel, about her grandfather, tying in with a re-issue of her father’s book about O’Neill later on this year by EM Publishing. Despite a minor hitch (the fact that Dorchester-in-Thames had entirely lost running water (therefore no loos!)), the main evening concert took place in the Abbey, and proved to be the most popular event of the Festival, with the largest audience of all the 2014 events. Hilary Davan Wetton conducted the City of London Choir and the Holst Orchestra in a World War One programme that included Elgar’s Give unto the Lord, O’Neill’s Pastorale for Strings, Butterworth’s Loveliest of Trees, The Lads In Their Hundreds and Is My Team Ploughing?, Gurney’s The Trumpet, Coles’s Behind the Lines, Parry’s My soul, there is a country, Holst’s How mighty are the Sabbaths, Vaughan Williams’s wonderful Five Variants on ‘Dives and Lazarus’ and Finzi’s deeply moving Requiem da Camera. Tristan Hambledon was the efficacious baritone soloist, and this concert was a highlight of the Festival for many.
The late evening concert featured EMF Vice-President Paul Guinery in a programme of music for stage and screen, with music by Strachey, Toye, Bath, Bax, Addinsell (including the Warsaw Concerto), Coward, Lambert, Ellis, Quilter, Wright and Wilson. Although Tristan’s presence regrettably prevented my attendance, reports reached me that this was, again, a superb event with playing of the highest calibre and a programme that appealed hugely to those present.
Sunday was our Radley day, with the morning and afternoon concerts sandwiching the EMF lunch. The first recital of the day presented the world première performance of Bax’s Sonata movement in E minor, alongside his Romance, Howells’s Clarinet Sonata and A Near Minuet, Ireland’s Fantasy Sonata, Armstrong Gibbs’s Three Pieces for Clarinet and Piano and Holbrooke’s Cyrene and Butterfly of the Ballet. Robert Plane and Sophia Rahman were the highly accomplished and acclaimed performers. The following lunch took place in the smart, wood-clad New Pavilion, with its huge windows looking out over the cricket pitches, and was another convivial occasion with pleasing food and company. Back in the Silk Hall, the afternoon concert comprised John Pickard’s String Quartet no. 5, Elgar’s Salut D’Amour and Vaughan Williams’s First String Quartet, with the Brodowski Quartet. John Pickard had been able to join us for this event, and pronounced himself very pleased with the excellent performance.
Back over to Dorchester for the remainder of the day’s events; the talk in the Village Hall with Angela Aries and Lewis Foreman, yet again tied in with a forthcoming EM Publication release, this time the biography of Armstrong Gibbs by Angela and Lewis. The evening concert in the Abbey also featured a work by Gibbs, which was, for me, the most efficacious piece of the concert (Dusk). The accompanying works were Vaughan Williams’s Toccata Marziale, Arnold’s first set of English Dances, Coates’s London Suite, Richards’s Doyen, Bliss’s Things to Come Suite, Vivian Ellis’s much-loved Coronation Scot, and Walton’s Battle of Britain Suite. This light and entertaining programme was played by the BBC Elstree Concert Band, in their debut appearance at the EMF. The late evening concert continued the “light and entertaining” theme and provided another aspect of war music, with the return of the New Foxtrot Serenaders in a programme entitled Keep The Home Fires Burning and featuring songs by, amongst others, Coward, Flanagan and Allen, Gay, Flanders and Swann, Gregg, Gay, Noble, Novello, Austin and Haydn Wood. The beautifully-turned-out band once again regaled us with banter, jokes and anecdotes as well as serious information about these wonderful and nostalgic songs – and (the highlight for me) invited their “youngest fan” to come up to take a bow. So I held baby Tristan high up to receive (his first) applause, and he was also presented by the band with a rare copy of their disctoninued first CD. A disc, I’m sure, he will enjoy and treasure as he grows up! This was a scintillating event, and the perfect conclusion to a most genial day.
Monday morning’s recital, back in the Abbey, was another war-related event, entitled A Soldier’s Tale, with Chris Foster and Audrey Hyland, and presenting songs by Butterworth, Somervell, Ireland, Britten, Bridge, Howells, Gibbs and C.W. Orr. Foster impressed with his robust voice, and brought the songs to life to an appreciative audience. This was followed, for members of the Bliss Society, by their AGM in the mediaeval Abbey Gust House. For the afternoon concert we moved to the beautiful and intimate All Saints’ Church at Sutton Courtenay (a village well served by its excellent pubs, in which we, like many an audience member, made ourselves at home before the concert started!). The Goldfield Ensemble’s substantial programme featured piano trios by Alwyn, Ireland (no.2), O’Neill and Rubbra, as well as Howell’s Rhapsodic Quintet – an excellent and atmospheric opener to the concert, and Bliss’s Clarinet Quintet.
And so it was back to Dorchester for the last talk of the Festival – Dr Snedden on the subject of Bliss’s Things to Come, and thence to the Abbey for the final concert (always a sad moment for me), with EMF regular Ben Palmer conducting the Orchestra of St Paul’s in another slightly lighter programme, with Rawsthorne’s Light Music for Strings, Bainton’s lovely Pavane, Idyll and Bacchanal, the Waltz in E minor by William Lloyd Webber, father of our Vice-President Julian, Armstrong Gibbs’s Suite for Strings, Dyson’s intense Concerto da Camera, Delius’s Air and Dance, and concluding, to my joy, with Bliss’s wonderful Music for Strings.
Although I didn’t manage personally to get to (or stay for the duration of) as many events as usual, due to having a baby in tow (albeit one with a seeming love of music), it was, yet again, another exciting, pleasurable and fulfilling Festival; and I was delighted to receive such positive comments from others, so as to lead me to believe that this glowing feeling of upliftment, conviviality and satisfaction was the general consensus regarding the Eighth English Music Festival.
EM MARSHALL-Luck · FOUNDER-DIRECTOR