Monday 5 July 2021

Norwich-based music writer, Tony Cooper, reports on the North Norfolk Music Festival

St Mary's Church, South Creake
St Mary's Church, South Creake, venue for the North Norfolk Music Festival

Now in its 16th glorious year, the North Norfolk Music Festival - founded by world arts traveller Barry Cheeseman and the distinguished British viola player Simon Rowland-Jones - runs this year from Tuesday 10 August to Saturday 21 August 2021 in St Mary’s Church, South Creake, near Wells-next-the-Sea.

The festival always offers a platform to extremely-talented young musicians and in keeping with this fine tradition it opens with a series of piano and string quartet master-classes hosted by Melvyn Tan and Simon Rowland-Jones on Tuesday/Wednesday, 10/11 August, 3-6pm. They’ll be working with pianists Thomas Kelly and Anna Manastireanu as well as the Clova String Quartet.

Following their master-class programme one can hear them in concert the following day (Thursday 12th) with the Clova Quartet (formed at the Royal Academy of Music in 2019) playing Beethoven and Bartók (3pm) followed by Thomas Kelly playing Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin and Liszt (6pm) while on Friday 13th Anna Manastireanu (currently the Constant and Kit Lambert Junior Fellow at the Royal College of Music) will team up with the Clova Quartet for a late-morning concert (11.30) to include Wolf’s Italian Serenade.

Later on the 13th (3pm) British baritone, James Atkinson, accompanied by Simon Lepper, will perform a programme of works by Schubert, Brahms and Finzi.  And returning to the festival for his eighth consecutive visit Melvyn Tan will take centre stage (6pm) performing Debussy, Ravel and Chopin.
The weekend turns to the voice on Saturday 14th (2pm) when Italian bass, Andrea Mastroni, teams up with Iain Burnside to sing Schubert’s great song-cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey) while later the same day (6pm) the Leonore Piano Trio will be heard playing Beethoven piano trios including the famous Archduke, so called because it was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph of Austria, the youngest of 12 children of Leopold II, the Holy Roman Emperor.

The Leonore Trio stays on for a further concert on Sunday 15th (3pm) opening with one of Haydn’s most outstanding and original works, Piano Trio in C, Hob: XV:27, followed by the highly-romantic piano trio by American composer, Amy Beach. For their final work, they’ll be joined by Simon Rowland-Jones in Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor.  

Accompanied by Sholto Kynoch, the British tenor, Alessandro Fisher, currently a BBC New Generation Artist, will perform songs by Donizetti, Bellini and Clara and Robert Schumann later on the 15th at 6pm. And no strangers to South Creake, the Navarra String Quartet return on Monday 16th (6pm) to perform a delightful programme which includes the second of Beethoven’s Op.18 quartets.
Despite being a medium that has inspired composers for over 300 years, the repertoire for two violas is still relatively under-explored. Not for much longer, though! The concert on Tuesday 17th (11.30am) features Peter Mallinson and Matthias Wiesner, members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Their programme includes works by Glinks (Ruslan and Ludmilla overture arr. Taylor-Cohen) and Simon Rowland-Jones aptly-entitled piece, Suite for two violas.

During the afternoon of the 17th (3pm) the Russian pianist, Roman Kosyakov, a graduate of the Tchaikovsky Moscow Conservatory, will include in his programme works by Bach, Beethoven and Schumann. And ending the day’s music-making (6pm) are the Maxwell String Quartet (1st Prizewinner and Audience Prizewinner at the 9th Trondheim International Chamber Music Competition in 2017) playing quartets by Beethoven and Dvořák.

The Maxwell Quartet
The Maxwell Quartet

The Maxwell Quartet will display their extraordinary versatility and technique in the programme for their second concert on Wednesday 18th August (11.30am) featuring Haydn’s ‘Rider’ quartet heard in stark contrast to the stirring, melodic and riveting quartet written by the much-talked-about Dutch composer, Joey Roukens, entitled Visions at Sea.

A composer widely known, his works have been performed by such major orchestras as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic and, closer to home, the Britten Sinfonia.

In most of his compositions, Roukens seeks to organically integrate elements from highly-diverse influences and aesthetics including the rhythmic energy of early Stravinsky, the late-romanticism of Mahler and Sibelius and the ethereal qualities found in the works of Debussy and Ravel.

In a late-afternoon concert on the 18th (6pm) the Hungarian pianist, Daniel Lebhardt - who won 1st Prize at the Young Concert Artists’ International auditions in Paris and New York in 2014 - will treat his audience to a romantic programme to include Beethoven’s ever-popular ‘Appassionata’ sonata.

Beethoven is the chosen composer of this year’s festival in celebration of his 250th anniversary but, of course, a year late. Therefore, on Thursday 19th August (3.30pm), the outstanding Carlucci String Quartet will perform the F minor (Op 95) and the late A minor (Op 132) quartets which include his transcendental ‘Song of thanksgiving of a convalescent to God’. For their second Beethoven concert (6pm) the Carducci’s will be joined by the outstanding young British baritone, James Atkinson, who’ll perform the song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved) in a new transcription for voice and string quartet by Simon Rowland-Jones.

Elizabeth Watts
Elizabeth Watts

The penultimate day of the festival (Friday, 20th August. 6pm), pianist Tim Horton teams up with Simon Rowland-Jones to perform a very special concert dedicated to the memory of one of the festival’s most bosom and trusted friends, William Birtles, who died in January 2020. The programme includes an elegy composed by Simon Rowland-Jones in Bill’s honour and this will be its first performance in public.

And for the last day (Saturday, 21st August, 5pm), Sholto Kynoch will be the accompanist for Norfolk soprano Elizabeth Watts’ recital. She’ll perform a delectable and entertaining programme of songs by Grieg, Rachmaninov and Richard Strauss as well as a selection of English folk-songs arranged by Benjamin Britten. What a treat!

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