KEITH BRAMICH visits Wales for the
opening concert of the 2001 Presteigne Festival
'It's our National ambition to put Wales on the map' states Jenny Randerson,
Welsh Minister for Culture, Arts and Sport, citing three festivals as particularly
important in this political map-making -- Brecon Jazz, Hay-on-Wye and the
Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts. In a world where 'dumbing down'
seems necessary for political correctness and advancement, Ms Randerson's
delight at the prospect of an evening's orchestral music had to be tempered
with a 'but please don't tell my colleagues'! Jenny was speaking on 23 August
at the opening reception of the 2001 Presteigne Festival, and the ensuing
orchestral concert in St Andrew's Church, sponsored by The Laura Ashley
Foundation, was definitely worthy of the ambition mentioned.
The concert opened with the popular Serenade in G (1937) by Swedish composer
Dag Wirén (1905-1986), played vibrantly and delicately by the strings
of the Presteigne Festival Orchestra -- a group formed from dedicated young
professional players led by Zoë French and conducted by the Festival's
Artistic Director George Vass.
Continuing the Festival's theme of music from the North, the orchestra
then played the Andante Festivo by Sibelius -- Finland's answer to
Elgar's Nimrod. Slow, sustained and played with vibrato, this music
has a raw power which builds gradually to a G major climax. A surprisingly
big sound from this small band!
Freya Ritts-Kirby played a beautiful Violin Concerto (1992) by contemporary
British composer and Presteigne's composer in residence Paul Patterson (born
1942). The first movement, slow and mysterious at the outset has a solo
part charged with feeling and well suited to Freya's clear-sounding high
register. Freya's long, slow theme in the central movement was sensual and
pure, ending first with harmonics above low chords in the orchestra, then
with a long high note, held by the soloist and taken up by the orchestra.
A whirlwind of a third movement, with its Bartók pizzicati, brought
something of the sound world of the last movement of the Barber Violin Concerto.
After an interval, flautist Kathryn Thomas and oboist Owen Dennis (playing
cor anglais) joined orchestra and conductor for the Concerto da Camera
by Arthur Honegger (1892-1955). An Allegretto amabile began with
spectral chords in the strings, over which first Owen entered with a lyrical
tune, and then Kathryn, faster and lighter. An andante was deeper
and darker in mood, slow and meandering, opening with violas, cellos and
double basses in octaves, and the final vivace, beginning with a
fast unaccompanied duet for these two superbly capable soloists, ended with
laughs from the audience at Honegger's witty throw-away ending.
The final item -- the Holberg Suite, showed conductor George Vass
at his very best -- light springy Grieg and impressive ensemble work with
a generous rubato.
Artists yet to come in this impressive festival in the Welsh border marches
include the Eden/Stell Guitar Duo, the Schidlof String Quartet, The Galliard
Ensemble Wind Quintet, Gillian Keith, the Ionian Singers and Chinese pianist
Chenyin Li. The artists in this opening concert all appear again during
the festival, but you'll need to be quick to catch them -- the Presteigne
Festival runs until 28 August, and information is available online.
Copyright © 24 August 2001
Keith Bramich, Presteigne, Powys, UK
VISIT THE PRESTEIGNE FESTIVAL WEBSITE
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