Past UK and European Concerts

The English Music Festival hosts a number of recitals and events throughout the year, including those which form part of its newly established UK and European Concerts Series. On this page are reviews of concerts that have been held under the aegis of the EMF as well as of launch celebrations of CDs released under its recording arm, EM Records. Please click on an event title to read its review.

BRASENOSE COLLEGE CHAPEL, OXFORD, 21th June 2015

Brasenose is a delightful discovery, when I thought I knew Oxford reasonably well after 60 years and more. It’s right there in the centre, in fact it couldn’t be more central, with one front on The High and another (which includes the rather obscure entrance) on Radcliffe Square, dominated by the great bulk of the Radcliffe Camera and the spire of St Mary’s, the University Church. The English Music Festival has a special link with the college in that our Director Em Marshall-Luck was there as a student, and we are able to hold concerts in The Chapel. This is unusual in several respects, being approached up a flight of covered steps, at the top of which a big door leads into the oblong ante-chapel (where our concerts are held); the chapel proper with its choir stalls opens off it at right angles. Stylistically this is very different from the ante-chapel, its gaily painted fan vaulting contrasting with a soberly classical coffered ceiling.

As last year, we were blessed with a fine summer evening, but on this occasion Rupert Marshall-Luck had company: Matthew Rickard, who is in fact his regular accompanist. The programme was heavily weighted in favour of Parry, who is receiving some very welcome attention from the Marshall-Luck combine in the form of recordings and also a DVD (a display of photographs with linking texts was also on show in a nearby room). Sir Hubert’s chamber music is little known in comparison to his choral or orchestral works, so Rupert’s voyage of discovery through the Parry violin and piano repertory has come up with much that is new and rewarding. The programme began with the mature Suite no.2 in F dating from 1907, and in five beautifully crafted movements. August Jaeger particularly liked the two slow movements (Intermezzo and Retrospective) with the lively Capriccioso interposed. The Sonata in D major which followed is a somewhat earlier but equally assured work, radiating confidence, but not without passion and depth of feeling in the Andante and exuberance and excitement in the Presto vivacissimo that rounds it off.

After the interval we had fascinating evidence of the willingness of the younger Parry to experiment with form. His single-movement sonata from 1878 is also unusual in having a German title (Fantasie-Sonate in einem Satz für Violine und Clavier). Cyclic in form, it was modelled on a concerto by Scharwenka that Parry’s mentor Edward Dannreuther had performed. Its experimentation does not stop with the form, as the music is often filled with a playfulness that does not allow it to take itself seriously for long, although the heartfelt lento section has the staying power to develop real emotional warmth.

The best was kept till last. Elgar’s three great chamber works come right at the end of his creative career; although more intimate in scale and conceived at the end of the 1914-18 hostilities in the tranquillity of Brinkwells, they do not lack in strong emotion or conflict, albeit often in more muted form in the Violin Sonata. This received a performance that captured well the overriding sense of grief, with that burnished tone that Rupert has at his command acquiring an often telling edge, realising the power of the outer movements as well as the tenderness of the elusive central Romance.

As ever, our Director had managed to encase the superbly executed music in a delightful setting, which revealed the true heart of Oxford for us as we drove away from our privileged parking position and circled the Radcliffe Camera. Another new experience.


Robin Sawers

EMF LONDON CONCERT, 21st April 2015

Just one month before the 2015 English Music Festival, the EMF London concert on Tuesday 21st April at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden, served as an excellent forerunner of the delights to come. 

The concert featured EMF regulars, the Orchestra of St Paul’s, under their conductor, Ben Palmer. The opening work, Malcolm Arnold’s Serenade for small orchestra, comprising three short, characterful movements in a distinctively "Arnold style", was played with real aplomb. The orchestra was then joined by young and acclaimed violinist, Midori Komachi, for Paul Patterson’s Serenade for violin and orchestra – the piece, commission in 2013 by the Kingston Philharmonia, is a delightfully light and playful conversation between orchestra and soloist. Komachi handled the virtuosic work with its countless technical challenges well, while her following performance of Vaughan William's Lark Ascending was considered charming. 

The UK première of conductor Ben Palmer's arrangement of Dowland's In this trembling shadow, a fantasia for strings based on the three verse lute song, was a hauntingly beautiful contrast to the previous works heard that evening. For many, however, the highlight of the evening was the concluding item on the programme: Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings. The performance starred tenor Richard Edgar-Wilson and Alec Frank-Gemmill, principal horn of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, who  deserves particular praise for stepping in at the very last minute. Both soloists gave incisive, chilling and powerful delivery to one of the masterpieces of Engish music.

All in all, a well-attended and well-received concert. We very much look forward to the Orchestra of St Paul's performance at the English Music Festival in Dorchester on 24th May. 


GALA EVENING, Tuesday, 14th October 2014

The latest EM Records disc, The English Phantasy (EMR CD025), containing three world première recordings, was released on 14th October 2014. The launch of this exciting new disc was celebrated at a Gala Evening held in the historic headquarters of the Royal Overseas League located just off St. James’s Street in London’s West End.

The Bridge Quartet performed three of the six phantasies featured on the disc: Holst’s Phantasy on British Folksongs, the Phantasy String Quartet by Herbert Howells and Phantasie for String Quartet by William Hurlstone. Each work was a delight for the assembled audience and the Quartet gave a brief but enlightening introduction to each.

The Gala Evening also featured an auction of 78 r.p.m. records and LPs that had been donated. Our auctioneer was charismatic composer Paul Carr, who handled the task with professionalism and typical good humour.

As always at EMF events, there was plenty of opportunity for Friends and supporters to socialise with each other and meet kindred spirits who share their enthusiasm for English music.

The Gala Evening was successful musically, socially and as a fund raising event for the English Music Festival and its recording arm, EM Records. A total of just under £ 1000 was realised in receipts.


Em Marshall-Luck

BRASENOSE COLLEGE CHAPEL, OXFORD, 14 JUNE 2014

Less than three weeks after the main Festival, the EMF held a Summer Concert in the Chapel of Brasenose College, Oxford. The recital, given by Rupert Marshall-Luck featured two works for solo violin, J.S.Bach’s Partita in D Minor (BWV1004) and Donald Tovey’s Sonata Eroica. The reason for the highly irregular inclusion of music by a composer not from these shores was that Bach’s writings for solo violin inspired the Tovey piece.

Sir Donald Francis Tovey is better known for his essays on music, but he also wrote a symphony, two concertos (for piano and cello), an opera, and several chamber pieces. The Sonata Eroica follows the four movement pattern of Bach’s three sonatas, and the overall sound is Bach-like, but the structure of the Sonata is perhaps more Classical, with an opening movement in sonata-form followed by a scherzo (Vivace) and then a slower third movement. The finale, however, is fugal and demands great dexterity from the performer.

During the interval the audience enjoyed refreshments on a beautiful early Summer evening in the College “Deer Park”, which is actually a typically elegant quadrangle within the precincts of the College.


KENRICK DANCE

EMF Autumn Festival: The Cotswold Connection, 20th/21st September 2013

What an extraordinary wealth of experiences was compressed here into less than two days, using Cheltenham as a base. Each concert was different from its companions in its setting, the players and their instruments, and the repertoire performed. The three venues provided fine settings for the music in question, and I always think that the building plays such a crucial role in defining the character of a performance, not only through its acoustics but through the whole ambiance provided by the architecture, decoration and lighting.

The first concert on the Friday evening, given by Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin) and Matthew Rickard (piano), was in the elegant surroundings of the Cheltenham Pittville Pump Room, which lent the music an extra dimension of grandeur that was appropriate for the mostly robust nature of the programme. Only the Holst Five Pieces for violin and piano could perhaps have benefited from a more intimate locale. The concert began with Arthur Bliss’s youthful Sonata for Piano and Violin (sic), which with its tautly organised structure has much to say in its 11 minutes. In sharp contrast was the main item in the programme, another early work, the monumental Sonata in B minor of Herbert Howells, written in 1911 even before he went to the Royal College. This was its World Première performance, only made possible by a major editing job on the part of Paul Spicer and the soloist. It can only be said that we are most indebted to them for making available a work of such impressive breadth and passion, which received a truly committed performance.

A complete change of scene for Saturday morning and afternoon to the enchanting small Cotswold church of St Laurence, Wyck Rissington. Its special significance for all lovers of English music, as attested by the brass plate on the organ, is that a 17-year-old Gustav Holst was organist here in 1892-3. Although only a modest single-manual instrument with pedals, the organ has great charm as well as clarity which allows it to speak with urgency when needed, and soloist Duncan Honeybourne’s loving care drew from it some magical sounds, while performing miracles to make up for the lack of a second manual in pieces such as Darke’s Brother James’ Air. As Holst did not write for the organ, he was represented by a piano transcription of the Brook Green Suite skilfully adapted by the soloist, who also introduced his programme. This was cleverly put together, made up almost entirely of Gloucestershire composers as befitted a recital entitled By Cotswold, Severn and Wye.

It is difficult to convey what a deeply engaging experience this recital was, for all the imperfections and limitations of the instrument (and even partly because of them).

That afternoon (after an excellent Festival Lunch courtesy of the Slaughters Country Inn) St Laurence’s proved an equally ideal setting for the Oxford Liedertafel, with a varied programme, entitled The Soul of the Age – Part-songs for a Late Summer’s Day, that combined Tudor and Elizabethan vocal music from Tallis, Dowland, Campian and Wilbye, Shakespeare settings from later composers, and folk songs, all sung with that meticulous accuracy and verve that characterise this talented quartet (two countertenors, tenor and bass). Tallis’s exquisite simplicity was heard in four English anthems and a rare secular song, Like as the doleful dove, while Vaughan Williams was also well represented both by folk-inspired songs and other settings, all betraying the influence of the earlier composers with whose work they were combined here.

It was no mean feat to put on successful concerts in an isolated venue lacking many facilities, and our Director is to be congratulated on overcoming the difficulties and pulling off this coup.

That evening we returned to Cheltenham, as the young Holst sometimes did after the Sunday services to rejoin his parents, but none of us were tempted to follow his occasional example in walking the 15 miles! There the English Music Festival was involved with the annual Holst Birthday Concert which is staged annually by the Holst Birthplace Museum in All Saints’ Church, where Holst’s father was organist for many years. St Paul’s Girls’ School (where Holst taught) was also actively involved, and provided the first part of the programme. Paulina Voices, conducted by Heidi Pegler with Alexis White at the piano, opened the concert with two of the Vaughan Williams Shakespeare Songs. What a miracle these settings are, with RVW going new ways even in the last years of his life. But not easy, so Paulina Voices did well with assured performances, as in the two contrasting Elgar part-songs that followed, to words by Alice Elgar. The choral contributions ended with Holst’s striking Ave Maria, an early piece which Imogen Holst recognised as his ‘first mature work’. Then the school’s chamber orchestra took over with a lively rendering of what must be their calling card, the St Paul’s Suite. What other school can claim to have had such a delightful masterpiece written for it by a great composer who lived and worked amongst its pupils.

The second part of the concert was a complete contrast, when the splendid Flowers Brass Band took over, conducted by Paul Holland. All Saints’ is a large church, but even so the fullness of the sound sometimes seemed to threaten to burst all barriers. I find this exciting and revel in it, but others complained. They couldn’t complain of the quality of the music however, which began with Malcolm Arnold’s fine Fantasy for Brass Band, full of interest and ingenious invention, its Elegy going way beyond what might be expected of a test piece (which this was) in terms of depth of feeling and expressive range. As so often in the brass band world, most of the music played consisted of transcriptions of orchestral scores, in fact the Arnold was the only work originally written for the medium, but the choice was not too hackneyed and there was even one surprising inclusion, an excerpt from the Bliss Checkmate ballet music. One might baulk at the idea of hearing only five of the Enigma Variations (which ended the concert), but this worked well enough in the context and provided an impressive conclusion.

It was also the end of a highly successful Festival, which proved again (following on from the unforgettable Cotswold Odyssey) what a wonderfully fertile area this has been – and still is – for English music.


Robin Sawyers

ST. JOHN'S, SMITH SQUARE, LONDON: 28 FEBRUARY 2013

Before a note was played at February’s English Music Festival gala concert (part of their UK and European concert series), Mrs. Em Marshall-Luck, founder of this remarkable enterprise, took to the stage to introduce her players and repertoire. Unearthing old scores for the very first time, or rediscovering overlooked masterpieces of English and British music is the aim of the EMF, now approaching its seventh season; and as Em explained, the main Festival, beginning on the 24th May will contain three world eremieree, two by Vaughan Williams, and one (the Second Symphony) by Sir Walford Davies, most famous, perhaps, as the writer of the RAF March Past. How strange that audiences have had to wait for so long to hear these compositions, and why is Sir Walford’s symphonic work unknown? The English Music Festival provides answers, and remedies, to these questions.

The evening at St. John’s with The Orchestra of St. Paul’s, under the conductor Ben Palmer, afforded a glimpse of what will come in the spring: truly adventurous programming, and a desire to present an almost alternative perspective for English music. The first work which Ben Palmer and his versatile chamber-sized symphonic orchestra played was a 1938 creation in three short movements by Frank Bridge, Vignettes de danse; detailed and finely- proportioned miniatures, which created something of a Southern European spirit, and perhaps echoed Bax’s more famous and more direct-in-style, Mediterranean. Small-scale pieces work very well in the acoustic of St. John’s, that beautiful church near Westminster, now converted into a concert-hall. The textures of the Bridge Vignettes floated into the air, in an acoustic which although blessed with a feeling of reverberation and ‘echo’ is nevertheless clear and un-muddy, and free from any distortions and the dryness associated with more modern halls.

The main work in the first half was the Violin Concerto by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, a great teacher and part of the English musical renaissance, particularly that part of the artistic flowering most associated with figures such as Parry, and Elgar: solid, romantic music, with connections to the Germanic style of the later 19th century, but with a profound, pronounced, perhaps difficult-to-summarise aura of Englishness. Stanford was once a famous composer, his Third Symphony (1887) being chosen to open Amsterdam’s great hall, the Concertgebouw; and yet today, we know him mainly for his setting of Drake’s Drum in Songs of the Sea. Fine and salty, and nostalgic, as this song is, it does not tell the whole of Stanford’s story.

Fortunately, the Violin Concerto, orchestrated by scholar, Jeremy Dibble, and admirably championed and played by the brilliant British soloist, Rupert Marshall-Luck, allowed us to see yet another unknown side of our musical heritage. Dating from 1918, the concerto had a lyricism (with lovely woodwind writing) and impressive structure, not perhaps as sweeping as Elgar’s incomparable work for the same combination of solo instrument and symphony orchestra, but nevertheless a ‘presence’ – especially, the darker slow movement which brought to mind clouds drifting across an Irish or Scottish landscape. (We should remember that Stanford was born in Dublin!) A sense of world events in the four years which led to the concerto’s composition should also not be forgotten. It must also be said that Rupert Marshall-Luck had a great deal of presence, too – and not just his brilliant skill and careful craftsmanship as a violinist. Full marks to this musician for wearing white tie and tails, clothing that is entirely right for music of this era, and for the act of music-making in general. Music is a ritual, and something to be honoured and savoured. It cannot, surely, be fully appreciated in casual dress.

The interval saw the Festival CD ‘shop’ buzzing with business: eager English music enthusiasts buying the fine recordings which Em Marshall-Luck and her team of archivists and recording engineers have created; and it was encouraging to see this newish label receiving praise in the ordinary conversations of the concertgoers, all of whom seemed to be greatly attuned to the cause which the evening represented. The recording arm of the EMF, EM Records, is an institution that puts one in mind of Chandos or Lyrita, companies which combined a passion for exceptional sound, and rare, unregarded repertoire. So far, chamber music, and works for smaller-scale ensembles have formed the discography. It can only be a matter of time before large-scale symphonies enter the growing catalogue: Havergal Brian, I hope, or Elgar, or Cecil Armstrong Gibbs; perhaps, Parry, Bantock and Vaughan Williams.

And so it was time for the second half to begin, with an intriguing ballet score for small orchestra by Britten, Plymouth Town, an early work (1931) by this prolific Suffolk-born musician. We celebrate the Britten centenary this year, and how exciting that the Festival gave us a work that had been, for many years, lost in a huge pile of the composer’s jottings and student works. And again, we see just how important the EMF’s idealism is; a musical version, no less, of Channel 4’s archaeological programme, Time Team. Quite seriously, it is almost the same principle; hunches, investigations and revelations that bring our inheritance before our eyes.

Conjured into life by Ben Palmer and his orchestra, the opening rhythm of the ballet – almost primitive in its sparse strangeness – suggested the style of the score for Night Mail, the famous 1936 film which saw the collaboration of Auden and Britten. Plymouth Town has an instantaneous quality: by which I mean a realism, a sense of black-and-white, a directness and potency which evoked (to me) something of Stravinsky’s sinister, supernatural Petrushka. Britten’s Plymouth, though, is all about a sailor who succumbs to all kinds of temptations and misfortunes; and the very well-informed programme note for the evening suggested the theme of the corruption of innocence – an idea which informed several of the composer’s later works.

Racing to the concert’s finale was E.J. Moeran’s Sinfonietta of 1944, dedicated to the great Sir Arthur Bliss, and inspired by the landscape of Radnorshire. Energy, wit, and quick wits abound in Moeran’s writing, and whenever his music is played (and it is played, I am sorry to say, infrequently) I cannot help but think of the composer’s time in the Kentish village of Eynsford, with that eccentric and elusive writer of the suite, Capriol, Peter Warlock. It is said, that on Sundays at their cottage in the High Street, “the kitchen was swimming in beer”! Moeran’s works have great force, a folkish, spritely spirit, and seem to exist in a sound-world that might be associated with Bax. The Sinfonietta provided an ideal end to this evening of discovery. We now look forward to the 24th May at Dorchester Abbey, in rural Oxfordshire, for the first night of the main Festival for 2013.


STUART MILLSON

St Michael and All Angels Church, Bedford Park, London: 27 October 2012


An Impressive Recital of English Song in a Fine Setting.
Philip Lancaster (baritone), Andrew Plant (piano).

Elgar: Like to the damask rose, A Song of Autumn, The Poet’s Life
Gurney: Scents, Kathleen ni Houlihan
Warlock: Autumn Twilight, The bayley berith the bell away
Finzi: Let us Garlands bring
Ireland: Three Ballads
Howells: Wanderers (from A Garland for de la Mare)
Vaughan Williams: Songs of Travel

Over the past six years the English Musical Festival, based in South Oxfordshire, has been held at a number of venues (such as Dorchester Abbey and Radley College), and in so doing it has become a ‘Glasto’ (without the mud) for lovers of English art-music. It is a serious and ambitious multi-faceted project committed to explore the whole gamut of native music with an emphasis on the re-discovery and revival of late-nineteenth and twentieth century works as well as on premiering of new music.

For this evening’s foray to London the EMF presented two artists known for their commitment to English music. The baritone Philip Lancaster is a professional singer, editor and writer specialising in twentieth century British music in general and the poetry and music of Ivor Gurney in particular. Andrew Plant, much in demand as an accompanist, is a scholar and broadcaster with a specialist interest in the music of Peter Warlock.

Tonight’s programme ranged mainly over fifty years of English music (c 1890-1940) and explored two broad themes: autumn as metaphor, a reminder of mortality; and journeying as metaphor, with the artist as wanderer, a familiar trope of nineteenth-century romanticism.

The concert began with three little-performed Elgar settings from the early-1890s. Right from the start, the performers established an impressive rapport with each other and connected confidently with the audience with lyrics that invited the audience to meditate on the transience of beauty (Like to the damask rose), on the brevity of human life (A Song of Autumn), and the artist’s struggle to secure fame in an uncaring world (The Poet’s Life). Lancaster and Plant blended voice and piano beautifully – with special loveliness of the Elizabethan lyric Like to the damask rose – while combining rhythmic momentum and expressive delicacy in all three songs.

Gloucester-born poet and composer Ivor Gurney, one of the rising young stars of English music, was wounded and gassed in the trenches in 1917. Despite increasing mental health issues his gifts nevertheless fourished in the early-1920s and it was at this time that he wrote Scents, words by Edward Thomas, a poem dealing with the complex sensuality of autumn, and Kathleen ni Houlihan, a ballad by W. B. Yeats, in which the autumnal beauty of Ireland is personifed by an ageing warrior-queen. Lancaster with his subtle phrasing excelled in these songs; supported by Plant’s suave and eloquent accompaniment he captured the shifting harmonies, the sensitive fowing lines, and the rhythmic subtleties of Gurney’s music, even if one or two higher notes sounded slightly forced.

Peter Warlock, inspired by both folk-song and Tudor music, wrote songs that have long been acclaimed as miniature masterpieces. The musicians demonstrated what a quality team they are in both songs chosen, Autumn Twilight (1922) and the sixteenth-century lyric The bayley berith the bell away (1918), exploring Warlock’s sophisticated tonal beauties with insight, evident commitment and fastidious attention to expressive detail.

Gerald Finzi’s Let us Garlands bring (1942) comprises of five songs from Shakespeare’s plays that reveal the composer’s extraordinary sensitivity to the richness of the English language. Lancaster and Plant gave an excellent reading of all five songs, moving effortlessly from the exuberant freshness of O mistress mine and It was a lover and his lass, through the celebratory wonderment of Who is Sylvia?, to the dark stoicism of Fear no more the heat of the sun and Come away death. Throughout they made the most of the subtly poised melodic lines and superb part writing, while at the same time conveying Finzi’s unerring ability to fnd the living centre of vocal texts.

The second part of the recital began with songs by John Ireland, a major fgure in English music in the interwar decades though now much neglected. Philip Lancaster, while working with the grain of Ireland’s renowned craftsmanship, communicated the composer’s passionate, mystical response in the Three Ballades (1913-22), namely Sea-Fever, The bells of San Marie and The Vagabond, the texts by John Masefeld.

Next up was Herbert Howells’s Wanderers (1958), a setting of Walter de la Mare, in which the performers managed to capture and transmit the composer’s rapt evocation of the starry heavens, a vision of the cosmos that metaphorically imparted the unlimited possibilities of Man.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’s reputation as a composer for voice and piano rests on his A. E. Housman settings, On Wenlock Edge. Yet his earlier cycle, Songs of Travel (dating mostly from 1905-07) to texts by R. L. Stevenson with its affinities with Schubert’s Winterreise, is relatively little-known. Lancaster and Plant once again held nothing back in their interpretation throwing themselves into the various stages the young artist-hero’s spiritual journey as he revels in the possibilities of the road (The Vagabond), the beauties of nature (Let Beauty Awake), the ‘golden pavilions’ of love (Youth and Love) and endures separation and loneliness (In Dreams), while finally accepting the consolation of his memories and his art. Throughout they captured Vaughan Williams’s sound-world on the threshold of fame, at once refective and passionate.

The recital programme was intelligently conceived, delivered with pace and conviction and hugely enjoyable. As for the overall sound-quality, whereas this gem of a Victorian church was acoustically fine for those in seats closest to the performers, the audience further back lost something of the aural focus. The small muffed tone of the Blüthner ‘baby-grand’ too left something to be desired.

The English Music Festival can nevertheless count its evening in London a considerable success. Excellent programme notes penned by the soloist guided an appreciative audience through the music performed, while fine English wine was made available to refresh those needing to keep the autumn chill at bay. Philip Lancaster and Andrew Plant acquitted themselves admirably in a challenging programme, while the Church of St Michael and All Angels, a building designed by Norman Shaw and consecrated in 1880, provided a fine setting for an impressive recital.


Meirion Hughes

HAY-ON-WYE: 08 JUNE 2012

As an awareness-raiser for the English Music Festival and EM Records, a UK & European Concert series event was held during the Hay-on-Wye Festival, as a fringe event of said Festival, on Friday 8th June 2012 at 7.30p.m. (just a few days after the end of the EMF!). The venue for our concert was the tiny gem of St Mary’s Church, in the middle of town. Rupert Marshall-Luck and Matthew Rickard were the performers, and the concert also tied in with the release of EMRCD006, of which promotional copies had been made and were being circulated around Hay-on-Wye. A reasonably small but very enthusiastic audience turned up (including, to my admiration, two extremely well-behaved little boys), and after a brief introductory speech from me about the EMF, our performers launched into Vaughan Williams’s Violin Sonata – a rather dramatic opening to the concert! – followed by Delius’s Third Violin Sonata and Britten’s Suite for Violin and Piano. The CD and book stall did good trade during the interval, which was followed by the second half, comprising performances of Elgar’s Allegretto on GEDGE and Holst’s Five Pieces. The monster programme concluded with Walton’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. Acclaim from the audience was high, for superb performances and the stamina of the performers!


EM MARSHALL-LUCK

LA MAISON DANS LA VALLÉE, AVON, FRANCE: 26 NOVEMBER 2011

The EMF is about more than simply a four- or five-day Festival in Oxfordshire: our aim is to widen and deepen concert-goers’ awareness of the music of British composers; and we are delighted, therefore, recently to have been able to launch our UK and European Concerts Series. Our first European concert took place on 26 November 2011, and was organised by a Friend of the Festival, Michael Poulain; we are extremely grateful to him for his hard work and dedication, without which this recital would not have taken place.

The town of Avon nestles deep in the wooded countryside around Fontainebleau, a region that has been, and is still, much prized by painters for the translucent, blue-grey quality of its light. La Maison dans la Vallée is one of the region’s principal concert halls and arts venues, and hosts a lively series of events throughout the year. It was as part of the 12th Festival celebrating British culture in its various forms that our recital was hosted; and regular EMF artists Rupert Marshall-Luck and Matthew Rickard presented a programme consisting of the Violin Sonata by Arthur Bliss (which will hopefully be familiar to many readers through these artists’ critically acclaimed recording for EM Records); Edward Elgar’s mighty, yet highly personal Violin Sonata – a fruit of his valedictory burst of creativity – which was followed by an early work by the same composer, the charmingly captivating Allegretto on GEDGE; Delius’s third Violin Sonata which, in its pointillist-inspired Impressionism, seemed perfectly attuned to this setting; and Britten’s ebullient and colourful Suite, op.6. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the concert (the Britten, perhaps surprisingly, was possibly the work they cited as liking the most), and the artists received many favourable comments afterwards.


EM MARSHALL-LUCK

ST PAUL’S CHURCH, COVENT GARDEN, LONDON: 13 NOVEMBER 2011

Coinciding with the release of EM Records’ latest CD issue – Gustav Holst’s The Coming Of Christ – the English Music Festival was delighted to be joined on 13 November by Ben Palmer and the strings of the Orchestra of St Paul’s in the oasis setting of St Paul’s Church in London’s bustling Covent Garden. In a warming (apt for a cold November!) and varied programme, the audience was treated to Elgar’s much-loved Serenade for Strings and Holst’s St Paul’s Suite. We were also delighted to present the London première of Paul Carr’s beautifully touching Now Comes Beauty, in a string arrangement of what was originally a work for choir. In the second half we heard a lesser-known gem: the whimsical and fascinating Variations on Sellenger’s Round – in seven Variations. In a project initiated by Benjamin Britten for the 1953 Aldeburgh Festival, the plaintive melody is first scored by Imogen Holst, and then followed by variations by Arthur Oldham, Humphrey Searle, Britten himself, Lennox Berkeley, Michael Tippett and William Walton. The concert closed with Britten’s youthful Simple Symphony, a perfect end to what proved to be a delightful and intimate evening of English string music.


ALEXANDER THOMAS

EMF CELEBRATORY CONCERT: 4 OCTOBER 2011

This concert took place to mark the launch of a further two releases from EM Records and the publication of Music in the Landscape by Em Marshall, Founder-Director of the EMF. This well-known ‘Actor's Church’, with its many plaques celebrating famous names in the world of the arts and theatre, was surely a good choice for such a special occasion.

A reception held before the concert was introduced by Alexander Stilwell of Robert Hale Publishing Company who welcomed everyone and commended Em’s book which is subtitled How the British countryside inspired our greatest composers. With 125 colour photographs, it delves into particular places that were vital to the inspiration of musical landmarks – for Bax, Ireland and Holst, to name but a few of the composers whose music is discussed.

David Owen Norris then spoke about the release of his recording of Quilter’s complete piano music and announced that he was to play on one of Quilter’s pianos that evening. He commented that he had discovered a particular quality in the instrument that has encouraged him to play more melodically for this concert. The instrument is shortly to travel to France where it will be cared for by David Wilson-Johnson. He also pointed out that the original manuscripts of some of the pieces he was to play had been brought along for everyone to peruse by Leslie East, who actually owns an impressive grand piano of the composer as well as much of his music.

After a warm thank-you to everyone present, Em Marshall welcomed the first artists of the evening – Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin) and Matthew Rickard (piano) – to perform music by Holbrooke. The Violin Sonata No.2 in F (“The Grasshopper”) is featured on the newest CD from EM Recordings and was given in its authorised original version. The programme notes for this work gave us a fascinating insight into the history of the work which exists in two versions: a Concerto and a Sonata.

Piano music next – Roger Quilter’s Suite from Where the Rainbow Ends was performed before his Three Pieces, op.16, as pianist David Owen Norris had decided to alter the order printed in the programme after hearing the final movement of Holbrooke's Violin Sonata. This seemed an excellent decision, since the contrasts were a good talking point for the interval and Quilter’s manuscripts were then really viewed with interest and many of the alterations pointed out by Leslie East.

Granville Bantock's grandson, Bjorn, introduced the second half of this concert by saying how thrilled he is to be promoting his grandfather’s music. Rupert Marshall-Luck, with his pianist colleague Matthew Rickard, then performed the Sonata for Viola and Piano – a work of ‘great power, warm lyricism…..intense introversion and ebullient energy.’ This was a magnificent conclusion to this Celebratory Concert.


TJD

St George’s day soirÉe: 23 april 2011

This delightful event was held both as a fundraiser for the English Music Festival as well as a get-together for Festival Friends and supporters. It was held in the lovely surroundings of the Springs Hotel in Oxfordshire. Although the soirée was intended to allow the Friends and supporters to mingle, chat and get to know one another, it turned out to be a miniature concert in its own right. I’m sure the Koinonia String Quartet had not expected to be listened to with such rapt attention but that they had assumed they were just to provide background music for the occasion. It was not to be! Their playing of English string miniatures was so expert and insightful that very soon the assembled company took their seats and simply enjoyed the music. Although all the playing was extremely accomplished, I was particularly impressed by the string quartet arrangement of Elgar’s Serenade for Strings. Although early in his output, this work has a simple but poignant expressiveness which, when played correctly, can be very moving. This was particularly so in this performance, especially in the slow movement. Alongside the Serenade they also played other Elgar miniatures such as Salut d’amour and Chanson de matin. In addition, there was also a very lively performance of Purcell’s Suite from Abdelazar which, of course, includes the famous theme used by Britten in his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.  This was altogether a very enjoyable occasion and a wonderful precursor to the English Music Festival itself which was to be held a few miles away in Dorchester-on-Thames at the end of May. Many of the guests had decided to stay at the hotel overnight and were treated to an excellent meal in the restaurant.


Dr David Green

St john’s, smith square: may 2010

The ever-enterprising Em Marshall, together with the illustrious Bridge Quartet, had organised this concert at St John’s, Smith Square as a fundraising event for the English Music Festival. The Festival remains indebted to the sterling work of this Quartet which has performed in almost every English Music Festival since its inception in 2006. We have never been disappointed by their performances at the Festival itself and neither were we disappointed at this concert. It was a wide and varied programme which included Britten’s first String Quartet, Frank Bridge’s Piano Quintet and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge. For the Frank Bridge Quintet the Quartet was joined by Michael Dussek and together managed to contrive a rapturous performance of this early and very romantic Quintet. I’m sure those who only know the later Bridge works would have been quite entranced not only by the melodiousness of the work itself but also by the intensity and brilliance of the performance. It really did bring the house down. For the Ralph Vaughan Williams, the Quartet and Michael Dussek were joined by the tenor Charles Daniels. Like the other performers, Charles Daniels is a veteran of the English Music Festival, having performed in Britten’s Canticles at the first EMF. He was absolutely superb in this work and we were treated to a excellent performance. It should be pointed out that all the performers gave their services free, showing the level of support which they have for the EMF. In addition, it was gratifying that the concert was very well attended and extremely well received. An wonderful evening all round!


Dr David Green

ST GILES-IN-THE-FIELD: 2 APRIL 2009

Elizabeth Kenny
The second event to raise awareness of and raise funds for the EMF was an evening concert held in London on 2 April in the wonderful church of St Giles-in-the-Field, tucked neatly but rather precariously behind the looming tower of Centre Point at the origin of Tottenham Court Road.

The concert followed hot on the heels of the first EMF fund raising event held in Leeds one month earlier, and featured the Syred Consort and their conductor Ben Palmer, organists David Stratkauskas and Jonathan Bunney, and our guest soloist, the eminent lutenist Elizabeth Kenny. Not surprisingly, all the music we heard was English and it was a delight to be treated to an organ arrangement of the Serenade from Delius’s incidental music to Flecker’s Hassan as we took our seats.

Ben Palmer

Following a stirring introduction from the EMF Founder and Managing Director, Em Marshall, as to what the EMF was all about, the programme proper began with Vaughan Williams’s Lord, Thou hast been our refuge. This was followed by Stanford’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in G, Finzi’s Lo, the full, final sacrifice, Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb and ended with Howells’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (Collegium Regale). The choir were inspirational and gave both insightful, reflective and, where necessary, full-blooded performances, on occasions truly raising the roof.

They also proved to be accomplished soloists in their own right as was amply demonstrated in what was, for me, one of the highlights of the evening, Rejoice in the Lamb. During the hour-long programme the choir were given two well-deserved breaks when the audience were treated to some exquisite English lute music. Elizabeth Kenny also introduced the works and reminded the audience of a previous period, during the reigns of the Tudors, of the pre-eminence of English music, with composers such as Dowland much in demand at home and abroad. As it is the avowed intention of the EMF to restore English music to its rightful place in the repertoire, her comments were most appropriate. An excellent evening; and thanks once again to Syred Consort and Elizabeth Kenny.


Dr David Green

YORKSHIRE FESTIVAL DAY: 21 MARCH 2009

David Owen Norris
YORKSHIRE FESTIVAL DAY in aid of the English Music Festival (EMF) was held on Saturday 21 March in the Clothworkers’ Centenary Hall of Leeds University. It was to be a day of recitals and talks to increase awareness of, and financial support for, the EMF in and around Yorkshire. The date happily coincided with an all-too-rare (and superb) performance of Delius’s Mass of Life in the Town Hall that same evening.

The event was superbly organised by two of the EMF’s most staunch supporters, Kevin Paynes and Sue Parker; and what a wonderful day it proved to be. The Clothworkers’ Hall (originally a church) turned out to be a superb venue with wonderful acoustics which suited the event admirably. The day began with an introductory talk by the EMF’s founder and artistic director, Em Marshall. She covered the origins of the EMF and illustrated her talk with excerpts from an amazing variety of composers from Bantock to Elgar, York Bowen to Vaughan Williams, Holbrooke to Matthew Curtis (whose Festival Overture was an EMF commission and première) to illustrate what we are all missing in the concert hall. Jo Peach then introduced us to a selection of piano music from Purcell to Richard Rodney Bennett in an illustrated recital of over 30 minutes. Not content with that, she then proved a superbly sympathetic accompanist to the flautist Jessica Wilkes, an extremely accomplished 17-year-old from Harrogate. Her recital included a lovely arrangement of The Serious Doll from Elgar’s Nursery Suite and works by Bax and York Bowen. This was immediately followed by a recital for baritone and piano by David Heathcote and Gary Midgley of English songs by Ireland, Denis Browne, Vaughan Williams and ending with the five Finzi Shakespeare settings brought together under the title of Let us Garlands Bring. Again the audience were treated to really insightful performances beautifully sung and played and introduced by the performers. A happy touch!

Time for a well-deserved lunch! The afternoon session began with a remarkable illustrated recital by the pianist and raconteur, David Owen Norris, entitled ‘Elgar at the Piano’. Having heard a similar illustrated recital before by Norris I was really looking forward to this item and neither I nor the audience were to be disappointed. The highlight was a superb performance of Norris’s own realisation of the Concert Allegro but also included a wonderful piano arrangement of the Prelude and Angel’s Farewell from The Dream of Gerontius.

Quintessential

This was followed by an excellent recital for soprano and piano by Amanda Crowley and the indefatigable Jo Peach in songs by Purcell, Quilter (we were to hear several versions of Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal during the day!), Vaughan Williams and Sullivan as well as some contemporary songs by Christopher Fox. Before the break for tea, Kevin’s wife Sarah proved an expert accompanist on the piano for another Harrogate youngster, Rebecca Else on the violin, in works by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Howells.

Following a well deserved tea break, Sarah (singing alto) joined her husband Kevin (bass), Gareth Reaks (tenor), Gwendolyn Wellmann (mezzo) and Christopher Gibbs (baritone) for a really delightful finale. They constitute the vocal group Quintessential and covered a repertoire from the 16th to the 20th centuries beginning with Wilbye and ending with Lennon and McCartney. The last rendering of Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal turned out to be one of the best with a super arrangement for the five songsters by Gareth Reaks: a beautifully blended rendition. We got an encore whether we liked it or not (and we did!); and that proved to be three nursery rhyme arrangements by Paul Hart. A super end to a super day. Thanks so much to Sue and Kevin and all the wonderful performers for a fantastic day!


Dr David Green