North York Moors Chamber Music Festival to go ahead outdoors at Welburn Abbey

Out on the moors: North York Moors Chamber Music Festival artistic director Jamie Walton. Picture: Paul Ingram

AN evolution as a much as a Revolution, after the ever-changing need to stay alert to Government guidance, the 2020 North York Moors Chamber Music Festival will go ahead. Outdoors.

The festival will run from Sunday (August 9) to August 22 in an open marquee sited in the grounds of Welburn Abbey, Welburn Manor Farms (YO62 7HH), between Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside, in Ryedale.

“Welcome to our Festival – ‘Revolution!’,” says festival founder, artistic director and cellist Jamie Walton’s buoyant latest newsletter. “We are pleased and relieved to confirm that we are going ahead as planned, observing the social-distancing regulations guidelines set for outdoor events.

“The welfare of everyone involved, audience included, will be thoroughly considered and planned for.

“The latest programme on the website, northyorkmoorsfestival.com, is the final version now, so please do check because certain works, in light of the change in venue, have had to change from the original launch.”

Originally, before the curse of Covid, Revolution! would have added up to more than 30 musicians, around 40 chamber works, in ten churches within the North York Moors National Park. Now, 34 works will be performed by 23 musicians at ten concerts in one location, under the concert titles A Hymn; Time Of Turbulence; Janus; Incandescence; Mystique; Transcendental; Voices; Vivacity; Towards The Edge and Triumph!. Full details can be found at northyorkmoorsfestival.com.

Explaining the choice of venue after the late Government U-turn on indoor spaces re-opening from August 1, Jamie says: “Due to circumstances, this year we are unable to perform within the churches (or any indoor spaces) available, so we have instead secured a 5,000-sq ft open marquee, with wooden floor throughout and acoustic panelling behind the stage, within the grounds of Welburn Manor.”

On song: Mezzo soprano Anna Huntley. Picture: Kaupo Kikkas

A separate garden can be used in the intervals. “This way we can ensure safety and adequate social distancing, as well as provide a unique experience within an area of outstanding natural beauty,” says Jamie.

For its theme of Revolution! in the festival’s 12th year of celebrating chamber works, the focus will be on and around the music of Beethoven – the “revolutionary” – and beyond to mark the 250th anniversary of the German composer’s birth in Bonn.

“Living through the French Revolution undoubtedly had a profound effect on this great composer and much of the repertoire we have chosen is to convey this triumphant spirit against all odds, which appears timely in light of recent events,” says Jamie.

“It seems ironic that for such a Titan, the world has been forced into relative (artistic) silence while it tries to control the pandemic, almost as if we are in tune with Beethoven’s very own debilitating deafness.”

Artists billed to be joining the Revolution cause are: Katya Apekisheva, piano; Naomi Atherton, French horn; Meghan Cassidy, viola; Christian Chamorel, piano; Claude Frochaux, cello; Rebecca Gilliver, cello; Matthew Hunt, clarinet; Anna Huntley, mezzo-soprano; Rachel Kolly, violin; Ursula Leveaux, bassoon.

So too are: Richard Ormrod, piano; Nikita Naumov, double bass; Tetsumi Negata, viola; Victoria Sales, violin; Charlotte Scott, violin; Simon Tandree, viola; Zsolt-Tihamer Visontay, violin; Jamie Walton, cello; Adrian Wilson, oboe, and Quartetto di Cremona (Cristiano Gualco, violin, Paolo Andreoli, violin, Simone Gramaglia, viola, and Giovanni Scaglione, cello).

Season tickets have sold out but tickets remain available for individual concerts, priced at £12.50 on 07722 038990.

York Stage head outdoors for first time for three musical nights in Rowntree Park UPDATED

On fire: Emily Ramsden, when playing the Dragon in York Stage Musicals’ Shrek The Musical. PIcture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

YORK Stage are bringing musical theatre back to life this summer with their first ever outdoor show, taking over the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre for three nights from August 23 to 25.

“Combining a live band with a team of sensational professional singers, this socially distanced outdoor event will provide you with the musical theatre fix you’ve been craving,” promises producer and director Nik Briggs.

“Presenting a programme filled with all of your favourite movie-musical songs, be prepared to be amazed as our vocalists perform songs from Grease, Hairspray, Cats, Cabaret, The Greatest Showman, West Side Story and many more.”

Explaining the choice of programme, Nik says: “We decided to stay away from anything ‘niche’, although we’re renowned for bringing new pieces, as well as ‘blockbusters’, to the York stage.

“We wanted to keep it light, with singers of great quality singing songs of great quality, and a band of great quality, performing songs we all know so well, presented as a concert rather than as a staged performance, so it’s very much about the music. With lovely lighting, it’s going to look beautiful too, with Adam Moore, Lisa Cameron and Daniel Stephenson handling the technical side of the show.”

Joanne Theaker as Maria in York Stage Musicals’ production of The Sound Of Music. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Looking forward to restoring the sound of live music to Rowntree Park, Nik says: “We’re  so excited to be creating the city’s first musical theatre event post-lockdown. We have built up a reputation of leading the way with our programming and bringing the latest show titles to the city in spectacular fashion, and so when the go ahead for outdoor performances was given, we knew we had to make theatre somehow and somewhere!”

The Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, with its bandstand and grass bank, is a long-standing presence in York’s outdoor performance portfolio, but really should be utilised more often.

Nik holds up his hands. “I’ve never lived in that part of York, so I’ve not used Rowntree Park a lot, and because the amphitheatre is tucked away in the far corner, it’s almost a hidden gem,” he says.

“During lockdown, I thought, ‘‘I’m sick of all the bad news, I need to create some good news, and find a good way of working outdoors this summer’, and it was my partner who suggested this beautiful space.

“When we came upon it, my reaction was, ‘why are we not using this space already?’.  It’s perfect, surrounded by trees. It’s crazy that it’s not used more often when other performance spaces are over-subscribed.

Richard Upton as Stacee Jaxx in York Stage Musicals’ Rock Of Ages. Picture: Robin May

“So, we set about creating a concert of songs that will be the tonic we all need right now: family favourites from across the generations”. 

Under the guidance of York Stage’s regular musical director, Jessica Douglas, York Stage are assembling “some very special performers” who have all trained and worked professionally in musical theatre and have a wealth of British and international credits to their names.

All five have performed in York Stage Musicals shows too. Step forward Emily Ramsden, Ashley Standland, May Tether, Joanna Theaker and Richard Upton.

“We saw this show as an opportunity to support actors left out of work by the Coronavirus shutdown of theatres, who would previously have been making their money from performing,” says Nik.

Musical director and pianist Jessica Douglas will be complemented by keyboards, guitar, bass and drums in the band of five. She is leading rehearsals too. “We’re doing a mix of outdoor rehearsals, along with some things pre-recorded they’ve all been sent online to rehearse,” says Nik.

Ashley Standland as Phantom in The Phantom Of The Opera. Picture: Richard J Tampion

“When they get together, it will be for the least time possible, with two of three rehearsals per person, with the joint rehearsals being socially distant, singing at least three metres apart.”

Be assured, the safety of performers, staff and audience is “paramount” in York Stage’s planning of this three-day event.

“We’re remaining up to date and working to ensure everything we do is guided and informed by City of York Council and the current Government guidance as the event approaches,” says Nik. 

“We want to ensure we can provide audiences with a brilliant night of musical theatre, while keeping them safe and comfortable.

“Under Government guidelines for public performances, for this venture, we’re only able to work with performers who have trained and work professionally, so although the total number of performers may be reduced from our usual blockbuster shows, we can still guarantee a host of powerhouse vocals.” 

May Tether as Tracey in York Stage Musicals’ Hairspray. Picture: Tim Clarke

In order to make sure they can seat everyone and maintain suitable social distancing of two metres between groups, York Stage have taken the decision to sell spaces for a “Bubble Blanket” for families or support bubbles to sit in, rather than sell individual tickets.

“These spaces have been positioned to ensure there’s a minimum gap of two metres between the spaces in every direction, while keeping the audience three metres away from the performers,” says Nik.

York Stage are creating two sizes of “Bubble Blanket” spaces: one will hold up to three people; a larger one will accommodate four to six people. Please note, no actual blankets will be provided, so bring your own or a camping chair. “You can bring a picnic too, as long as you take away your rubbish,” requests Nik.

A one-way system will be in operation and the show will be 90 minutes straight through. “With no interval, we avoid any possibility of congestion,” reasons Nik.

The ticket price is £40 for the smaller Bubble Blanket; £65 for the bigger one, available online only at yorkstagemusicals.com and they MUST be bought in advance of the 7.30pm shows.

York Stage director Nik Briggs and musical director Jessica Douglas

York Stage have been anything but dormant through lockdown and beyond. “We’ve been doing Songs From The Settee online,” says Nik. “We thought there’d be four or five, but there were 11 in the end – we made a rod for our own back, but it was lovely to work with professional singers and musicians, and now we’re thanking them, and the technicians too, by doing the live shows.”

Meanwhile, York Stage School has continued to run through lockdown and beyond with online sessions. “We’re doing a summer school too, with sessions last week and this week,” says Nik.

“We’ve even had one student calling in from Estonia! Normally she stays with her grandma in York in the summer, but not this year, so she’s joining in from Estonia. We have just short of 30 students taking part, and we’re creating a ‘Zoomsical’, an online performance under licence, to show to family and friends in a premiere on YouTube on Saturday.

“The show’s called The Big One-Oh!, composed by Doug Besterman with lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and it’s an American high school piece that the licencees have managed to adapt to do on Zoom.”

Looking ahead, Nik says: “Hopefully, we can return to York Stage School lessons as normal in September, pending Government guidance.”

Yorkshire’s Got Talent contest video entry deadline extended by a week for Joseph Rowntree Theatre roof appeal fundraiser

“We don’t want anyone to miss out on the chance of becoming a finalist in Yorkshire’s Got Talent,” says organiser Hannah Wakelam

THE deadline for performers to upload video entries for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s online contest, Yorkshire’s Got Talent, is being extended by a week.

Organiser Hannah Wakelam and the judges, Wicked star Laura Pick, cruise-ship vocal captain Nathan Lodge and vocal coach Amelia Urukalo, have set a new cut-off point of midnight on August 8.

Hannah has set up the virtual competition as a fundraiser for the JoRo’s £90,000 Raise The Roof appeal.

“We still have lots of entries coming in, as word of the contest reaches further afield,” says the 19-year-old York performer. “We don’t want anyone to miss out on the chance of becoming a finalist in Yorkshire’s Got Talent, and so the judges and I are extending the entry deadline to next weekend.

“All types of performers are encouraged to enter and to show off what they can do, whether it’s singing, dancing, playing a musical instrument, performing a circus act, the list is endless.”

The cost of entry is a minimum donation of £5 to the Raise the Roof appeal for the Art Deco building, in Haxby Road, and no age restrictions apply.

To comply with lockdown rules, entrants are asked to submit a short video of themselves performing their acts. The contest winner will receive £100.

Full rules and details of how to enter can be found at:

Facebook:  facebook.com/groups/687590815139642/about

Instagram: instagram.com/yorkshiresgottalent/

Graham Mitchell, the JoRo’s events and fundraising director, says: “There’s a real buzz around this contest now. Having a West End star [Laura Pick] among our judging panel has certainly got people talking and we are seeing a rush of last-minute entries.  By extending the deadline, we’ll be able to accommodate more acts at the same time as raising more money for our fundraising appeal.”

The online contest is the latest in a string of fundraisers for the Rowntree Theatre’s  roof appeal, following on from a virtual video, a Zoom fitness class and the ongoing sale of jazzy face masks made by theatre volunteer Barbara Boyce.

To launch the Raise the Roof campaign, the JoRo has set up a Just Giving page and is encouraging donations of “even just the amount of a takeaway coffee” at  justgiving.com/campaign/Raise-the-Roof.

More Things To Do in and around York, on a bench and at home, courtesy of The Press, York. List No. 11

One man and his bench: Director Matt Aston in place for the Park Bench Theatre summer season at Rowntree Park, York. Picture: Livy Potter

OUTDOOR theatre is taking to a park bench and a mill garden. Museums and galleries, and even car boots sales, are re-opening.

Spanish holidays may be off the Brexiteer Prime Minister’s list of To Do’s in August, but York is stretching its limbs, dusting off the cobwebs, and saying welcome back.

Maybe Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester’s Mayor, should test-drive his eyesight by paying a visit to “a part of the north that looks most like the south,” he says. Really, Andy?

As we all turn into masketeers, CHARLES HUTCHINSON makes these recommendations for days out and days in.

Cassie Vallance: Performing Teddy Bears’ Picnic in Rowntree Park’s Friends Garden

Outdoor theatre number one: Engine House Theatre’s Park Bench Theatre, Friends Garden, Rowntree Park, York, August 12 to September 5

HERE come Samuel Beckett’s rarely performed monologue, First Love, artistic director Matt Aston’s brand new play, Every Time A Bell Rings, and something for all the family inspired by a classic song, Teddy Bears’ Picnic, all staged on and around a park bench in a Covid-secure outdoor theatre season in York.

Each production will be presented in carefully laid out and spacious gardens, allowing audiences to keep socially distanced from each other. Chris Hannon will perform the Beckett piece; Lisa Howard, the play premiere; Aston’s co-creator, Cassie Vallance, the new children’s show.

Headphones or earphones will be required to hear the dialogue, sound effects and music in performances. All audience members will be given a receiver on entry; takeaway headphones cost £1 when booking a ticket online. Bring blankets or chairs.

Alexander Flanagan-Wright, left, and Phil Grainger swap sunnier climes on the other side of the world for Stillington Mill for their At The Mill shows

Outdoor theatre number two: The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, “Six Days of Work”, Stillington Mill, near York, August 2 to 7, 7pm

“WE’RE doing some Orpheus, some Eurydice, and one night of New Stuff We Haven’t Done Before,” say Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, introducing their raft of At The Mill two-handers.

Performances will take place in Alex’s back garden at Stillington Mill to a maximum, socially distanced, audience of 30 per show.

The new work, on August 5, will be a reading of Alex’s This Story Is For You and a fresh set of songs by Clive (Phil’s name for his solo music, Clive being his middle name and his father’s name). Orpheus and Eurydice will be all Greek to you, but in a good way.

Train coming: National Railway Museum to re-open next week

York galleries, museums and attractions leaving Lockdown hibernation

THE York Dungeon has re-opened already; York Art Gallery and Castle Museum will do so from Saturday.

Back on track next will be the National Railway Museum, in Leeman Road, going full steam ahead from August 4.

“To manage visitor numbers, we are introducing free, timed and guided routes around the museum to ensure you have a relaxed visit and can maintain social distancing,” says the NRM. To book, go to: railwaymuseum.org.uk/visit.

Senior operations assistant Charlotte Mundey prepares for the re-opening of the Rotunda Museum. Picture:
Tony Bartholomew

Museum re-opening of the week ahead outside York: Rotunda Museum, Scarborough, from August 8

SCARBOROUGH’S Rotunda Museum will re-open with a new booking system that gives small groups exclusive access.

Visiting slots will be every half hour across the day, allowing groups – or social bubbles – of up to six people at a time to explore the museum without having to follow prescriptive routes.

In the Ancient Seas Gallery, visitors will come face to face with prehistoric creatures that once roamed this coastline. In the Rotunda Gallery are displays of fossils, taxidermy, fine art and ceramics. 

Crash, from a new wave of seascape works by Carolyn Coles, at Village Gallery, York

New exhibition of the week: Carolyn Coles, “Oh I Do Like To Be Besides The…”, Village Gallery, York, from August 4 to September 19

YORK seascape artist Carolyn Coles, once of The Press graphics department, should have been exhibiting at York Open Studios in April and the Staithes Festival of Art and Heritage in September. Enter Covid, exit Carolyn’s two big showcases of 2020.

Enter Simon Main at Village Gallery, Colliergate, York, who says: “We saw Carolyn’s work at her first York Open Studios show back in 2019 and were so taken with her seascapes – many inspired by and maybe giving a different perspective of the Yorkshire coastline – that we started talking about a show.

“So, we’re delighted we have finally made it and are really looking forward to hanging Carolyn’s beautiful work. And who doesn’t love Filey?”

Joker: Closing film at Daisy Duke’s Drive-in Cinema at Knavesmire, York, this weekend

Open-air film experience of the week: Daisy Duke’s Drive-In Cinema, Knavesmire, York, Friday to Sunday

LATER than first trailed, Daisy Duke’s Drive-In Cinema will park up on Knavesmire for screenings of Grease, Rocketman, Toy Story, Mamma Mia!, 28 Days Later, Pulp Fiction, Shrek 2 and A Star Is Born.

Sunday’s closing film will be Joker. Tickets are selling fast so, no joke, prompt booking is recommended at dukescinema.epizy.com.

Interaction between staff and customers will be kept to a minimum, with cars parked two metres apart and those attending expected to remain within their vehicles for the duration of the screenings on LED screens with the sound transmitted to car radios.

Colin Moncrieff in Badapple Theatre’s 2014 production of The Daily Bread, a performance he now reprises for a podcast

Home entertainment of the week: Badapple Theatre’s The Daily Bread podcast

THE Daily Bread rises again as the latest free Podbean podcast from Green Hammerton company Badapple Theatre.

Glaswegian actor, clown and raconteur Colin Moncrieff reprises his 2014 stage performance in artistic director Kate Bramley’s comedy about a master baker who is the talk of the tiny village of Bottledale, thanks to his sumptuous sponges and beautiful buns, this time giving a relaxed reading from home, accompanied by Jez Lowe’s songs.

Go to badappletheatreonyourdesktop.podbean.com to discover whether the baker’s cheery façade hides a dark secret.

Fishwife, Emma Stothard’s new scuplture, takes up residence by the harbour swing bridge in Whitby

And what about…

The rockumentary Rockfield: The Studio On The Farm on BBC iPlayer. New albums by Rufus Wainwright, Courtney Marie Andrews, Seasick Steve and The Psychedelic Furs, their first in 29 years. Emma Stothard’s new Whitby sculpture, Fishwife, Selling Cod, Mackerel and Crab, by the harbour swing bridge. A walk at Wheldrake Ings, followed by Sicilian flatbreads and piadini at the re-opened Caffé Valeria in Wheldrake. York Racecourse Saturday car boot sale, re-launching from August 8.

REVIEW: RyeStream, Ryedale Festival online, Streetwise Opera/Roderick Williams/Carducci Quartet, July 26

Carducci Quartet: Harmonies melted in and out

Streetwise Opera/Roderick Williams/Carducci Quartet, Castle Howard Long Gallery, July 26

SO to RyeStream’s finale. It opened with the advertised – presumably filmed in advance – grand ensemble performance of Schubert’s The Linden Tree, otherwise known as Der Lindenbaum, sung in a Jeremy Sams translation.

The choir consisted of members of Streetwise Opera and Genesis Sixteen (The Sixteen’s junior offshoot), with Roderick Williams starring in brief baritone solos, accompanied by pianist Christopher Glynn and the Brodsky Quartet.

The song represents one of the few comforting moments in Die Winterreise (Winter’s journey), justification enough for its inclusion here. Apart from Williams, who appeared to be strolling along a farm track on open downs, all the rest were seen in isolation (the Brodskys also outdoors), some blowing away lime leaves marked with optimistic mottos. It was a brave effort and remarkably tidy, if not quite what Schubert had in mind.

The serious part of the proceedings involved the Carducci Quartet, under the resolute leadership of Matthew Denton, in works by Philip Glass and Beethoven. Glass’s Third String Quartet is derived from his score to Paul Schrader’s experimental 1984 film Mishima. Its six movements all employ minimalist techniques, though in the Carducci’s hands there were clear-cut distinctions of mood between them.

Roderick Williams: “Appeared to be strolling along a farm track on open downs”

Some were merely relentless, testing the ensemble’s concentration. But elsewhere, shifting accents – groups of four notes made to sound as if in groups of three, for example, thereby teasing the ear (you could call it trompe l’oreille) – kept interest alive as harmonies melted in and out.

While one can genuinely admire the technical prowess of both composer and performers here, it is harder to become emotionally involved with such repetitive processes. The Carducci were as persuasive as one could imagine.

Their Beethoven – the Op 95 Quartet in F minor, nicknamed “Serioso” for that rare marking in the second half of its second movement – was another matter altogether. The work was written in the white heat of Beethoven’s emotional turmoil after his rejection by Therese Malfatti and reflects the composer at his most volatile. The terseness of the Carducci’s approach was just what the doctor ordered.

Their crisp unison at the start presaged tight ensemble throughout the opening movement. Even the seemingly gentle Allegretto had an underlying tension, preparing for the extremely violent outburst of the serioso section, which is actually a scherzo (though joke-free). The unsettled rondo’s ending – a devil-may-care piece of opera buffa in F major – came as much-needed light relief. The Carducci know their Beethoven well, if this reading is anything to go by. Let us have them back in the flesh when conditions allow.

A final word on Patrick Allan’s camera work, which has generally been first-class. With the Carducci, we predominately saw individual players, when the great joy with string quartets is seeing the players’ interaction – which in turn is an aid to listening. This we were largely denied. No matter, this concert series has generally worked superbly. It is available online, free of charge, until August 16. Strongly recommended – but do make a donation if you possibly can.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Director Delma Tomlin picks digital York Early Music Festival highlights for Music Of Our Time download

Elizabeth Kenny and Iestyn Davies performing in the stillness of the empty National Centre for Early Music, York, at the 2020 York Early Music Festival Online on July 9

MUSIC For Our Time, the Director’s Cut download of highlights from this month’s inaugural York Early Music Festival Online, is available from today.

Festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin has chosen her festival favourites, ranging from York countertenor Iestyn Davies and theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny’s opening concert on July 9, A Delightful Thing, Music and Readings from a Melancholy Man, to vocal ensemble Stile Antico’s closing performance on July 11.

Taking part in the 2020 festival too were lute and theorbo player Matthew Wadsworth, harpsichordist Steven Devine, lyra viol player Richard Boothby and Consone Quartet.

All the concerts were recorded by digital producer Ben Pugh at the empty National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York.

Iestyn Davies provides an exclusive introduction to the £4.99 download celebration of “the extraordinary success of the very first York Early Music Festival Online, which attracted a huge audience from across the UK and as far afield as Australia, Japan and the United States”.

“The wonderful music can be enjoyed time after time,” says festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin after picking her highlights for the Music For Our Time download

Delma, director of the NCEM, says: “I’d like to say a huge thank-you to all those who joined us online. We have been overwhelmed by the warm wishes we received from our worldwide audience, which inspired me to choose a selection of my favourite highlights from the weekend to share with you, so that the wonderful music can be enjoyed time after time.

“The enthusiastic response shows the voracious appetite for early music and the power it has to engage and excite audiences far and wide.”

Festival favourites Stile Antico, who presented Breaking The Habit: Music by and for women in Renaissance Europe, say: “Such a delight to be able to perform from York: there is nothing quite like live music-making! Many thanks to the wonderful York Early Music Festival for the invitation and for all the technical wizardry. We hope that you all enjoyed watching as much as we enjoyed singing.”

Among comments shared on social media by online audiences, one enthused: “Great music and really liked the commentary which builds a bridge to the (remote) audience.”

Another said: “Thoroughly enjoyed everything this year. The internet presentation, while necessary under the circumstances, has made the festival much more accessible.”

Consone Quartet performing at the National Centre for Early Music, York, for the 2020 York Early Music Festival

A third exclaimed: “An absolute delight! So glad the festival was able to come into our homes this year.” A fourth concluded: “What a collection of talented performers! A wonderful couple of days.”

Looking to combine the early with the cutting edge, the NCEM was among the first British arts organisations to use digital technology to live-stream concerts during the Covid crisis.

The series began with recitals by Steven Devine and the Brabant Ensemble, filmed at St Margaret’s Church shortly before lockdown and broadcast live to an audience of over 60,000 people. Since then, the fortnightly series of streamed concerts has reached a worldwide audience of more than 70,000.

To download the Music Of Our Time – The Director’s Cut log, go to ncem.co.uk/earlymusiconline and follow the step-by-step guide. 

“Watch this space!” says Delma. “The NCEM will be announcing full details of its forthcoming programme on the website and via social media very soon.”

REVIEW: RyeStream, Ryedale Festival online, Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Christopher Glynn, July 25

Violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen: “Her Elgar was immaculate”. Picture: Patrick Allen

Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Christopher Glynn, All Saints’ Church, Helmsley, July 25

THE violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen was to have been the mainstay of Ryedale Festival’s final weekend, giving an Elgar programme in tandem with pianist Christopher Glynn on Saturday afternoon and then leading her Albion Quartet on Sunday evening.

In the event, she appeared on Saturday only and the Carducci Quartet played Beethoven when the Albion had been promised in Schubert. These are unpredictable times and we must go with the flow of RyeStream, the revised, online festival.

But her Elgar was immaculate. Her lack of sentimentality gave it a feeling of freshness, while consistently sustaining the composer’s momentum. The heart of her recital was Elgar’s only surviving violin sonata of 1918 (he had destroyed another written 30 years earlier).

Even bearing in mind that the violin was the composer’s own instrument, I cannot remember it sounding more personal than it did here. Elgar had waited till relatively late in life to compose his three greatest chamber music works – the others being the string quartet and the piano quintet – but they hinge on his transition from great
patriotic topics to a more sober sensitivity, doubtless brought on by the Great War.

Christopher Glynn: His piano pairing with Tamsin Waley-Cohen’s violin was always tautly intertwined. Picture: Gerard Collett

Those two strands are reflected in the two themes of the Violin Sonata in E minor’s opening Allegro: Waley-Cohen contrasted them beautifully, the one with resolute, forceful rhythms, the other with calm arpeggios (prefigured by the piano in the first theme).

The quirky Romance was straight out of an earlier era, echoing the rural serenity that the Elgars had found when they moved from London to a small Sussex cottage in 1917. It did not prevent this duo from reaching an impassioned climax, though they remained emphatic in the muted, closing bars.

This pairing, always tautly intertwined, responded to one another most closely in the wistfulness of the finale, where Glynn’s piano neatly echoed many of the violin’s phrases. Waley-Cohen’s long bows in the reminiscence of the Romance were especially effective, before the coda brought a spirited close.

The rest of the programme gave us Elgar’s three most famous salon pieces for the violin. The seriousness of Chanson de Nuit was complemented by a more playful Chanson de Matin, as if reflecting emergence from our present crisis. Salut d’Amour (played as an encore) would have gladdened the gloomiest heart: English music at its most cheery.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: RyeStream, Ryedale Festival online, Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn, July 24

Rowan Pierce: “Proved extremely telegenic, her calm features responding well to close-up camera-work”

Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn, Music For A While, All Saints’ Church, Helmsley, July 24

ROWAN Pierce’s soprano brought a ray of sunshine into this online festival, albeit under cover of candlelight.

Her partner in a “taster” – and tasty – programme was the ever-versatile Christopher Glynn, Ryedale Festival’s artistic director. They opened with Purcell and dipped into a cross-section of lieder from Schubert to Grieg, before landing squarely in English repertory again (via three folksongs), topping it all off with optimism from Richard Strauss.

It was a mouth-watering selection that whet the appetite for their early return in proper concert conditions.

So much of the poetry was keenly suited to our present plight. Music for a While, in Purcell’s famous setting of Dryden, “shall all your cares beguile”. It made the perfect opener. Similarly composed on a ground (a repeating phrase in the bass) is O Solitude, My Sweetest Choice!, a translation from the French by Katherine Philips. It invited us to treat lockdown as a bonus.

Christopher Glynn: Deft colourings. Picture: Gerard Collett

The sunshine first appeared in Schubert’s Im Haine (In The wood), where sunbeams slanting through the trees bring peace, wiping out our woes. It was tenderly treated, as was a Schumann love-song. Pierce took flight with Mendelssohn, before bringing us flowers courtesy of Strauss and Grieg.

Blow The Wind Southerly was a daring choice, given its association with Kathleen Ferrier, but this prayer for a fair voyage benefited from Pierce’s unsentimental approach. Alan Murray’s I’ll Walk Beside You, one of the very last drawing-room ballads, offered touching support, before joyful abandon from both performers in Quilter’s setting of Love’s Philosophy. Donald Swann’s The Slow Train aptly brought tearful nostalgia, while Strauss’s Morgen! (Tomorrow) promised sunshine ahead.

Pierce proved extremely telegenic, her calm features responding well to close-up camera-work. The clarity of her vowel sounds, unusually distinct for a soprano, also helped her many mood-changes throughout – as did Glynn’s deft colourings. Every listener will have yearned for more from these two. Next year perhaps?                           

Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: RyeStream, Ryedale Festival online, Matthew Hunt & Tim Horton, July 21

Matthew Hunt & Tim Horton; Castle Howard Long Gallery, July 21

TUCKED down slightly apologetically at one end of the Long Gallery at Castle Howard, when performers are usually in its centre, Matthew Hunt and Tim Horton’s clarinet and piano made a short tour around Fantasy Pieces by Schumann, Widmann and Ireland. Shorter perhaps than it might have been, at rather under 40 minutes, but these days we must be grateful for small mercies.

They were certainly worth waiting for. Schumann’s Three Fantasy Pieces, Op 73 all date from February 1849, one of the composer’s most fertile periods, and are also related by key, the first being in A minor and its partners in A major.

In his introduction, Hunt referred to them as a mini song-cycle, and his own legato was distinctly song-like. In the first, marked Zart und mit Ausdruck (tender and with expression), it was a joy to hear the main melody so soulfully weaving between the two players, with Horton’s keyboard coming subtly to the fore when opportunity allowed. Both players brought delicate touches to the light central piece, bursting into much greater passion in the finale.

A clarinettist himself, the German composer Jörg Widmann wrote his solo Fantasie in 1993, at the age of 20. It has become something of a calling-card for the instrument. Its restless range of extended techniques was smoothly negotiated by Hunt, who seemed to revel in its wave-like motions. Still, it is a work that prompts awe rather than outright pleasure.

John Ireland’s 1943 piece, Fantasy-Sonata in E flat, was apparently inspired by his evacuation by sea from Guernsey when the German occupation began. Certainly there is a persistently undulating figure in the piano that provides a watery backdrop.

But in other respects, while Hunt maintained a lyrical brio in the clarinet, Horton refused to allow the lush piano part to overshadow him. Only in the march-like closing section did both players spring clear of Ireland’s rhapsodic moods to reach a triumphant conclusion – presumably on the mainland.                                                                                                       

Review by Martin Dreyer

Review: RyeStream, Ryedale Festival online, Isata Kanneh-Mason; Rachel Podger

Isata Kanneh-Mason: Opening online concert at the 2020 Ryedale Festival

Isata Kanneh-Mason, All Saints’ Church, Helmsley, July 19; Rachel Podger, Castle Howard Chapel, July 20

RYEDALE Festival has not so much stolen into our lockdown imaginations as bounced back into our lives, reminding us what we’ve been missing. Performers normally rely on the adrenaline of an audience. These two ladies, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason and violinist Rachel Podger, shooting straight for the stars, needed no such help.

It was impossible not to smile at the way Isata Kanneh-Mason dispatched the opening Allegro Vivace of Beethoven’s Sonata in A, Op No 2. Right from the off, she was light-footed – very little pedal – and her long fingers (something we might not have spotted in a live concert) caressed the composer’s wide leaps with carefree wit in the development section. She might have brought a touch more orchestral tone to the chorale-like Largo, but her momentum kept interest alive.

Outwardly playful in the minuet, she was much more plaintive in its minor-key trio. But in the concluding rondo she gave quiet emphasis to Beethoven’s teasing returns to the theme and finished with serene nonchalance.

Samuel Barber’s only sonata, written in 1950, brought out deeper passions. There was drama to burn in the opening Allegro Energico and (as with so much of what Kanneh-Mason does) its form emerged with great clarity. She turned skittish in the second movement, with little squibs exploding all over the texture in what is effectively a scherzo.

There was menace from the start of the Adagio, which reached an angry climax before subsiding into resignation. This was Barber trying his hand at 12-tone techniques, but Kanneh-Mason made much more of it than that.

In the jazz-inspired fugue at the close, her syncopation was heady. Once again clarity was her watchword and the coda brilliantly summarised what had gone before. There was only time for one of Gershwin’s Three Preludes – No 1 in B flat – but its rhythmic cross-currents were crisp and precise. On this evidence, she is a pianist worth travelling a long way to hear.

Rachel Podger: First “live” performance in five months

Rachel Podger has graced this festival several times and always emerged triumphant. If such a thing were possible, she burnished her credentials on Monday. With her flowing hair, she looked as if she might have stepped straight out of one of the Castle Howard Chapel’s pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows, and her solo violin floated magically into the warm halo of the building’s acoustic.

Johann Joseph Vilsmayr’s name does not trip easily off the tongue, even of Baroque specialists. That may be about to change. He belongs to the generation just before Bach, and was a pupil of Heinrich Biber, who was born still another generation earlier, in 1644. Podger gave us the sixth and last of Vilsmayr’s partitas, which are all that survive of his output. It is cast in nine short movements, most of them dance-derived.

Its most lyrical moments occurred in its five Arias, where the composer’s melodic riches were most apparent, enhanced by any amount of double-stopping. But more notable still was Vilsmayr’s use of the instrument’s different registers: Podger found wonderfully varied ‘voices’ for them.

There were subtle echo effects in the jolly Gigue, but they were mere trifles compared to the tricky techniques demanded by the closing Aria Variata. She was equal to them all.

The peak of 17th century scordatura – unconventional tuning – occurs in Biber’s Mystery (or Rosary) Sonatas, onto which he tacked a Passacaglia in G minor, based on a simple tetrachord, here a four-note falling phrase. Podger’s treatment of these variations was breath-taking, all the more so for her seemingly carefree approach. Hard to believe that this was her first “live” performance on five months.

Bach’s Cello Suites are not normally heard on other instruments, least of all No 6, which is written for the five-string cello. Nevertheless Podger’s own arrangement for four-string violin is extremely convincing, particularly because it stays in the original key, D major.

She managed to increase the urgency of the rapid triplets in its Prelude without speeding up and countered it with taut decorations in the stately Allemande. Perhaps closest to her own personality was the frisky Courante, but she was deeply ruminative in the double-stopping of the Sarabande.

She found greater depth than most in the famous Gavotte and topped it all off with a beautifully proportioned, neatly signposted Gigue. Behind her friendly approach and technical prowess lurks a hugely penetrating intelligence.

Finally, a note on the production skills in these broadcasts. One had to admire the gimmicks involved but they were not overused. Fading one camera-shot into another, for example, or even superimposing the player on a stained-glass backdrop were both grist to Patrick Allen’s mill.

It must be admitted, too, that in venues such as Helmsley Church, where sightlines are poor, it is greatly satisfying to be able to see the pianist at close quarters. So while we may lament the lack of social interaction in lockdown streaming, there are definite compensations.

All these concerts are available, free, on Ryestream, up until August 16. Donations are sought – and thoroughly deserved.

Review by Martin Dreyer