Friday 18 May 2012

Chipping Camden Music Festival

We discovered the Chipping Camden Music Festival by accident, whilst holidaying in the area. Two weeks of music based at the Church of St. James in Chipping Camden from 6 May to 19 May 2012. This year's festival is the 11th and there have been visits from the Sixteen, the Academy of Ancient Music, plus recitals from Paul Lewis, Richard Goode and Mark Padmore.

The Chipping Camcden Music Festival Orchestra is a training academy under the direction of Thomas Hull. Numbering around 40 players, the orchestra combines established professionals with an equal number of auditioned graduate trainees, sharing desks. This year the orchestra perform three concerts, we caught the second on Thursday 17 May.

Churches are not ideal places for orchestral concerts, but placed on a platform in the nave and chancel, the orchestra's position gave pretty good sight lines for the audience thanks to the church being gothically rectilinear. The acoustic was warm and not too reverberant. The pews were full and 85% of tickets sold via advanced booking.

They opened with Rossini's Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers. Hull's tempi were steady, a measured opening leading to a lively main section; at a brisk but steady tempo. The orchestra sparkled with crisp articulation and lovely wind solos. A performance which caught the real fun of Rossini's piece, with Hull leading the musicians to an exciting climax.

Soprano Kate Royal joined the orchestra for three concert arias by Mozart. The first, O temeraro Arbace.. Per qual paterno amplesso K79, opened with an accompanied recitative which seemed rather conventional until you realised that Mozart was only 10 when he wrote it. At which point the listener can only gasp with astonishment at the achievement. Royal sang persuasively, with a lovely line and technical ease in the virtuoso passages; her cadenza was relatively discreet. Hull and Royal made a strong case for the work as musical drama rather than a curiosity from a 10 year old genius.

The next aria, Vado ma dove K583 was mature Mozart, dating from 1789. The aria was written for Martin y Soler's Il Burbero di Buon Cuore, the standard 18th century practice of composers writing substitute arias for revivals of operas, to suit the demands of the singers. This aria was the real thing, mature Mozart with a sophisticated handling of the orchestra and a ravishing solo soprano line. Frankly, it must have stood out a mile in Martin y Soler's comedy. Royal gave a touchinly poised performance with a beautiful feel for the Mozartian line.

I would like to have been in the audience at the concert in 1787 when soprano Nancy Storace gave her farewell. She had been Mozart's Susanna and for the concert he wrote her a concert aria, setting a text from Idomeneo. But a concert aria with a difference, after the soprano recitative a solo piano appears to form a dialogue with the soprano. Chi'o mi scordi di te remains sui generis, a concert aria with concertante soprano part, here played by Imogen Cooper making her third festival appearance this year.

Royal's performance was appealingly affecting, with a nice sense of dialogue with Cooper's poised piano playing. Royal, Cooper and Hull made this combination of voice, piano and orchestra seem the most natural thing in the world; a most moving performance.

After the interval, when audience members wandered round the church yard and picnicked amongst the tombs, we were treated to Beethoven's seventh Symphony. After a long and surprisingly massive introduction, the first movement's main section was beautifully perky with infectious joie de vivre. Some passages in the development were not misterioso enough for me, but Hull developed the drama strongly.

Speeds for the second movement continued to be on the swifter side, Hull creating a feeling of propulsion whilst never being rushed. The orchestra allowed the movement's rich textures to develop nicely.

The scherzo was acquitted with sprightly rhythms, full of bounce and crisp articulations.

The finale was astonishing. Hull's speed must have been approaching Beethoven's metronome mark and the orchestra responded with brio and enthusisam. They played with incisive brilliance, crisply articulating and visibly enjoying the challenge. This wasn't the subtlest of performances, but one full of vividly infectious bravura and some brilliant playing.

Tonight the Nash Ensemble play Britten, Mozart and Schubert then tomorrow night the Festival Orcehstra return withWeber, Beethoven and Brahms; Anthony Marwood being the soloist in the Beethoven Violin Concerto

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