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Ensemble

Sublimely sensual

RODERIC DUNNETT looks back on a stunning young clarinettist's début and the music of one of Britain's most rapturous modern composers, both featured at the 2001 Deal Festival

 

A few miles from where Claudius's Roman legions first beached, and a stone's throw from the Queen Mother's Cinque Ports chateau, Deal's Music Festival, directed by the composer David Matthews, has the same kind of intimate feel as Presteigne, Hexham or the Vale of Glamorgan. The town's Astor Theatre, a few streets from the south coast's shifting shingle, has a rough-and-ready feel, rather as Glastonbury or Aldeburgh did in their heyday, as if it were surreptitiously hankering after some new Immortal Hour or Albert Herring to stage in suitably musty surroundings.

David Matthews. Photo: Paul Trevor

Deal is especially strong on contemporary music : Matthews programmes others' new work generously, and his healthy-sized audiences rise enthusiastically to the challenge. The BBC Singers programmed an Epitaph composed by 30-year old Mark Horton alongside Skempton (The Bridge of Fire) and early Matthews (Te Lucis) ; Steven Isserlis played John Woolrich alongside a new cello Fantasy by a Juillard-trained American composer, Steven Christopher Sacco; and the Ovid Ensemble delivered a brand new Deal commission, The Sixteen Cities, by Cambridge-based Jeremy Thurlow, whose aggressive launch (five minutes of fortissimo) felt a little like parvum in multo (the ensuing impressionistic pianissimi achieved more), and overall conveyed rather less than Hilary Tann's The Walls of Morlais Castle, and paled alongside Dvorák's E flat Piano Quartet, where exquisite pairings of violin and viola topped out some superb ensemble.

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Copyright © 6 December 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK

 

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