Tuesday 11 April 2023

Norwich-based music writer, Tony Cooper, looks forward to the North Norfolk Music Festival coming round this Summer

St Mary's Church, South Creake - home of the North Norfolk Music Festival
St Mary's Church, South Creake - home of the North Norfolk Music Festival

Now in its 18th glorious year, the North Norfolk Music Festival - founded by world arts traveller Barry Cheeseman and the distinguished British viola player Simon Rowland-Jones - runs from Friday 11 August to Friday 18 August 2023. All of the concerts are held in the splendid surroundings of the medieval church of St Mary, South Creake, close by to Wells-next-the-Sea and the delightful market town of Fakenham. 

Opening the festival (Friday 11 August 4.00 pm) is the award-winning vocal ensemble, ORA, who’ll be offering a lovely and inviting programme featuring William Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus, a motet he wrote for the Feast of Corpus Christi and one of his best-known compositions. This year he’s especially remembered as it’s the 400th anniversary year of his death. A distinguished organist/composer of the Shakespearean age, he’s renowned for developing the English madrigal.  

Also included in ORA’s delightful programme are works by Hildegard of Bingen (1179), Orlando de Lassus (1532) and Richard Dering (1580) as well as works by contemporary composers of the likes of Roxanna Panufnik, Caroline Shaw and Roderick Williams while ORA’s recently commissioned work All Shall be Well by Joanna Marsh, described by The Guardian as ‘one of today’s leading composers for the voice’, promises a big treat, especially for choral aficionados. 

A fine voice will greet the audience when soprano Katherine Broderick takes to the stage of St Mary’s (Sunday 13 August 7.00pm) accompanied by pianist, James Coleman. A very special programme has been curated comprising mainly French music that includes Ernest Chausson’s magnificent Concerto for Violin and Piano featuring violinist Jonathan Stone and the Karski String Quartet.  

Another fine work by Chausson gets an airing, too, with Chanson perpétuelle scored for soprano and piano quintet. The composer’s last completed work, the text comes from a poem by Charles Cros describing the suffering of an abandoned woman. Incidentally, Cros was also an inventor and is perhaps best known for being the first person to conceive a method for reproducing recorded sound - an invention he named the ‘Paleophone’. 

The programme also includes a rare performance of Ottorino Respighi’s setting of Il tramonto from a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley while a lovely collection of songs by Berlioz and Saint-Saëns, concluding the programme, should put the icing on the cake! 

Another fine singer follows Katherine Broderick in St Mary’s (Monday 14 August 7.00 pm) with mezzo-soprano, Fiona Kimm, accompanied by pianist Gary Matthewman. They’ll perform a rich and varied programme of songs remembering the First World War with the recital suitably dubbed In Flanders Fields. Therefore, works on the song-sheet come from Granados, Lili Boulanger, Toivo Kuula, Poulenc, W. Denis Browne, Anthony Payne, Elaine Hugh-Jones, Berthold Goldschmidt and Charles Ives. 

A regular visitor to South Creake, the outstanding pianist Melvyn Tan (Friday 11 August 7.00 pm), will bring with him a typically original and varied programme that is his hallmark. Therefore, one can look forward to hearing a rare performance of Britten’s Holiday Diary composed in 1934 after Britten had left the Royal College of Music and was living in the family home at 21 Kirkley Cliff Road, Kirkley, Lowestoft. A Grade II listed Victorian townhouse, it has been renamed Britten House and now run as a superior bed-and-breakfast establishment - info@brittenhouse.co.uk 

A couple of movements ‘Early morning bathe’ and the central section of ‘Sailing’ vividly depicts the boisterousness of the North Sea while the work overall evokes the experience of an English seaside holiday conjuring up funfairs, still nights and bracing dips in the sea. An exuberant and inventive piece, it’s a pity that Britten didn’t compose more for solo piano. Melvyn Tan completes his programme with Schumann’s Kreisleriana and Abegg Variations along with Berg’s Sonata Op.1.  

The Karski String Quartet returns to Norfolk (Saturday 12 August 4.30 pm) playing Haydn and Schubert as well as a beautiful work by the 20th-century Polish composer, Grażyna Bacewicz, dating from 1951. And following the outstanding success of Alim Beisembayev’s piano recital at last year’s festival, he’s back (Thursday 17 August 7.00 pm) to play Schubert and Chopin in contrast to works by John Adams (China Gates) and Ligeti (Etude No.13: L’escalier du diable). Born in Kazakhstan in 1998, Beisembayev - who won First Prize at the 2021 Leeds International Piano Competition - is enjoying a blossoming international career. 

Katherine Broderick returns, too (Saturday 12 August 7.00 pm) to sing Strauss, Debussy and Duparc as well as Brahms’ Two Songs, Op.91, for voice, viola and piano featuring Gary Matthewman (piano) and Simon-Rowland-Jones (viola) while Rowland-Jones’ setting of Rainer Maria von Rilke’s poem Spaziergang seems a perfect piece to close the programme.  

This year the festival welcomes a newcomer, pianist Jâms Coleman (Monday 14 August 4.30 pm) who’ll be joined by the violinist, Jonathan Stone, well known for past performances at the festival with the Doric String Quartet. They have created a unique programme of works featuring Ravel, Copeland, Ives and Lili Boulanger rounding off their programme with César Franck’s alluring Violin Sonata in A major. It’s one of his best-known compositions and widely considered one of the finest sonatas for violin and piano ever written.  

And making his fourth visit to the festival (Tuesday 15 August 7.00 pm) is the renowned Swiss-born pianist Louis Schwizgebel who’ll perform Janáček’s In the Mists and Beethoven’s Sonata, Op.110 plus a selection of works by Claude Debussy to include L’isle Joyeuse. Interestingly, it was on the channel island of Jersey where the composer revised L’isle Joyeuse. He escaped here with his lover Emma Bardac, who later became his second wife, in 1904. 

Formed in 2013 at the Royal College of Music, the Marmen String Quartet (Monday 14 August 7.00 pm) also returns to the fold after a long interval. Therefore, celebrating their return to South Creake they’ll play a formidable and contrasting programme comprising Haydn and Ligeti along with Beethoven’s Razumovsky Quartet No.2 in E minor.  

Early music takes over South Creake (Wednesday 16 August 4.30 pm) with the renowned German-born recorder player Tabea Debus and harpsichordist Robin Bigwood, who works with a host of period-instrument orchestras and ensembles, performing a delectable programme entitled Lessons from the Master. Therefore, imaginative and colourful pieces written by J.S Bach will be heard in contrast to those penned by his most famous son C.P.E. Bach while rare gems by Dieupart and Albinoni are included, too. 

Festival regular, pianist Tim Horton, holds court on the final day of the festival - Friday 18 August. The first concert (4.30 pm) comprises solo piano works by Chopin and Haydn as well as Ravel’s extraordinary masterpiece Gaspard de la Nuit inspired by three poems by the French romanticist, Aloysius Bertrand. The work’s widely known for its considerable virtuosity and the pianistic prowess it requires.  

The second concert (7.00 pm) sees Tim team up with Ensemble 360 and Gorleston-born clarinettist Robert Plane to deliver an attractive programme featuring Stravinsky’s enigmatic Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet and Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet while rounding off this year’s festival with César Franck’s monumental and highly emotional work, Piano Quintet in F minor.  

The quintet sits strongly beside the French composer’s most popular works but not, perhaps, at its première in 1880, given by the Marsick Quartet with Camille Saint-Saëns (the dedicatee) at the piano. Immediately after the performance, Saint-Saëns had a slight contretemps inasmuch as he walked straight away from the keyboard leaving the score wide open, presumably a sign indicating his disdain towards the music. Nonetheless, Franck still named him on the score’s title-page as dedicatee. Such is history! 

Box office: 01328 7303577  www.northnorfolkmusicfestival.com 

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