Audiences stunned by festival

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REVIEW: Music at Paxton Festival, Friday, July 17 until Sunday, July 26.

The first weekend of this year’s Music at Paxton Festival presented three most impressive concerts that so well suited the acoustics of the house.

On Friday, July 17 the Notos Piano Quartet from Germany revealed their remarkable rapport in a piano quartet composed by the 17 year old Czech, Joseph Suk. This work, new to most of the audience, explored a wide range of deeply passionate writing for all four instruments. In contrast, Brahms’ C minor Piano Quartet showed the composer in dark moods of emotion, passionately conveyed. On the following day, Scottish pianist Steven Osborne and his clarinet playing wife Jean Johnson talked to the audience, providing a fascinating insight into the lives of international musicians. In the evening, Steven courageously opened the programme with Schubert’s extensive and introspective Piano Sonata in D flat, composed only two months before the composer’s early death at the age of 31.

After the interval, the two players clearly enjoyed presenting three Romances of Schumann, and Brahms’ second Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. On Sunday, the much acclaimed cellist Natalie Clein, with pianist Håvard Gimse, chose three major works from the repertoire, beginning with Debussy’s engaging Sonata, a late work written during World War 1. She followed this with the sonata Benjamin Britten wrote for the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, an enigmatic, very personal piece that is made much clearer in live performance.

The second half was filled by Rachmaninov’s glorious Cello Sonata, the pinnacle of music for the two instruments, passionately performed to the very enthusiastic audience, making a glorious finale to a weekend of great music making.

On Wednesday the mezzo soprano Anna Huntley, accompanied by Joseph Middleton, delivered a most satisfyingly varied evening. The first half comprised an unusually extended solo cantata by Haydn, which in 1801 the composer had performed with Lady Hamilton at Esterházy. This was followed by Schumann’s deeply emotional song cycle Frauenliebe und Leben. After the interval, Anna treated us to an amazing range of songs which allowed her to display her commendable skills as a dramatic singer.

Friday evening welcomed the Signum Quartet from Germany. They opened their programme with Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue before embarking on Janáček’s Second Quartet ‘Intimate Letters’. Unlike any other work in the repertoire, it is an expression of the extreme emotional mood changes reflecting the composer’s strong love for a woman over 30 years his junior. This was an outstanding exhibition of coordination of the kaleidoscopic, ever-changing fragments of melody. Similar assurance marked their approach to the immensity of Beethoven’s late Quartet in B Flat, with the Grosse Fuge. These impressive musicians have already acquired a wide reputation as an ensemble of note. The pianist Benjamin Grosvenor has established an enviable international name while still only in his mid-twenties.The last Festival concerts on Sunday were Following a brief afternoon taster of a Bach solo cello suite and two Johann Strauss waltzes, in the evening two masterpieces of the string quintet catalogue enclosed ‘Epitaphs’, five pieces in memory of his friends by the Australian composer Brett Dean. by the Hebrides Ensemble. To end the concert, the Hebrides Ensemble gave a forceful account of Brahms’ second String Quintet in G, a late work by the composer requiring plenty of stamina, which the artists could provide. This was the culmination of nine uplifting days of music making before very satisfied audiences.

Neil Butterworth