REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on La Belle Époque, North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, 10/8/2021

Mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley: “Played her part superbly too, setting the fin de siècle tone”. Picture: Kaupo Kikkas

North York Moors Chamber Music Festival: La Belle Époque, Welburn Manor Marquee, August 10

NO fewer than 11 different musicians took part in what was essentially a song-recital by mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley, devoted to ‘mélodies’ – the French answer to the German Lied – whose heyday was that prosperous period of roughly 35 years up until the First World War.

Among the composers, we enjoyed a fascinating handful of lesser lights jostling with the likes of Debussy, Ravel and Chausson.

Huntley certainly knew her way around this repertory. When singing with piano accompaniment – provided by the keenly attentive James Baillieu – she quite properly used no score. She found pathos at the centre of Duparc’s L’invitation au voyage and sustained a lovely line against Baillieu’s rippling piano. Paladilhe’s Psyché made a pleasing miniature with the voice in a largely secondary role.

Her account of Debussy’s Trois chansons de Bilitis – who was supposedly an ancient Greek poetess but was in reality a fiction created by Pierre Louÿs and fooling many classicists – was equally fluent.

The semi-recitative of ‘La flute de Pan’ and the rueful reminiscence of ‘La chevelure’ was countered by more forceful momentum in ‘Le tombeau de Naïades’. Later we had shapely Chaminade, and Viardot’s Havanaise in operetta style, with Baillieu injecting witty habanera rhythms.

Violinist Benjamin Baker: “Breath-taking finale, barely off the plane from New York”

But the real treats came when she had an ensemble at her side. In Chausson’s Chanson perpetuelle, violin and viola sweetly in turn echoed the vocal line and the full piano quintet helped generate considerable intensity.

Even more of a pleasure was the chance to hear Ravel’s Chansons madécasses with the flute of Claire Wickes (doubling on piccolo), alongside Jamie Walton’s cello and Daniel Lebhardt’s piano. Here was intriguing scene-painting, impressionism with exotic ethnic tints. This group was notably well-knit.

A breath-taking finale came with violinist Benjamin Baker, barely off the plane from New York, in the concertante role in Chausson’s Poème, Op 25. The early elegiac mood turned gradually more upbeat, as Baker’s soaring cantilenas and dizzying arpeggios built towards a protracted final cadence that turned from minor to major at the last gasp. A quintet, led from the piano by Katya Apekisheva, lent energetic support. Another festival gem. But Huntley had played her part superbly too, setting the fin de siècle tone.

Review by Martin Dreyer

North York Moors Chamber Music Festival promises dazzling repertoire in Epoch event

“This festival is one way in which we can escape the turmoil and touch base as a community coming together,” says North York Moors Chamber Music Festival artistic director Jamie Walton. Picture: Matthew Johnson

WORLD-CLASS musicians and emerging artists will head to the moors in August for the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival.

Now in its 13th unbroken year, the 2021 festival will run from August 7 to 21, presenting “dazzling repertoire” around the theme of Epoch.

“Our history is punctuated by defining moments that influence the course of humanity and its cultures,” says the festival director, international cellist Jamie Walton, who lives within the boundaries of the National Park.

“This tumultuous last year has been one of those defining epochs for most of us, one may argue: a period we would probably all like to forget while we crave for our traditional rhythms and a simpler way of life. This festival is one way in which we can escape the turmoil and touch base as a community coming together.”

Against the tide of Cassandra doom elsewhere, last year’s festival was rearranged by the resolute Walton, who found a new Covid-secure location in less than a week to still play to audiences, socially distanced to meet regulations.

“Our passionate belief in finding ways to keep music present in our lives by refusing to be silenced was somewhat defiant of course, but also a deeply moving experience,” says Jamie Walton, recalling last summer’s hastily rearranged festival

For the past decade, concerts had been held in churches across the North York Moors National Park, but like so many other arts events, the festival was in jeopardy, discourtesy of the Coronavirus crisis.

When the Government made a last-minute U-turn, postponing the re-opening of indoor performances first announced for August 1, Walton had to act swiftly, settling on presenting concerts in a 5,000 square-foot, wooden-floored, acoustic-panelled marquee in the grounds of Welburn Abbey, Welburn Manor Farms, near Kirkbymoorside.

More than 50 per cent of the marquee sides could be opened, in effect making the concerts an open-air event. Good fortune then smiled on the event, blessing the sold-out concert series with an August heatwave. 

Originally, before the curse of Covid, Revolution! in Ryedale would have comprised more than 30 musicians, around 40 chamber works, in ten churches. Instead, it added up to 34 works being performed by 23 musicians at ten concerts in one outdoor location, under the concert titles of A Hymn; Time Of Turbulence; Janus; Incandescence; Mystique; Transcendental; Voices; Vivacity; Towards The Edge and Triumph!.

Last summer, Walton and his festival musicians from Britain and overseas “dared to dream despite the odds” by mounting the August 9 to 22 event with an apt theme of Revolution, “taking a gamble that took tremendous courage and sheer willpower in a climate of fear that is shutting down the arts”.

Cello, cello, its’s good to back, cello, cello: Jamie Walton out on the North York Moors, looking forward to the August concert series

“We have fought back against this Government and the disgraceful, destructive way it’s shutting down industries and, more ominously, the nation’s confidence,” said Jamie at the closing concert.

Now he reflects: “In 2020, we absolutely refused to cancel, despite the constraints of this worldwide pandemic, because we wanted to keep hope alive. Our passionate belief in finding ways to keep music present in our lives by refusing to be silenced was somewhat defiant of course, but also a deeply moving experience.

“Despite the obvious challenges, musicians flew in from more than six countries to enjoy a fortnight of electrifying music-making with a rarefied environment, incorporating vast spaces to override risk or limitations.

“Astonishingly and surprisingly perhaps, we were one of the only classical music festivals to go ahead live to socially distanced audiences at all, while not having to compromise on the length of festival nor the number of concerts. The result was a complete revelation, and we want to share this experience this summer with those who may have missed out last year.”  

This summer’s festival will comprise ten main concerts featuring a plethora of international musicians in music by many epoch-defining composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Dvorak, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Elgar, alongside the launch of an additional series of five Young Artists lunchtime recitals, showcasing talent from the Royal Academy of Music.

All rehearsals will take place at the new Ayriel Studios, a state-of-the-art soundproofed recording studio in the grounds of Millinder House, surrounded by North York Moors farmland in the heart of Westerdale. Initiated by Walton, it is due to open commercially in January 2022.

Mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley: Taking part in the Epoch series of concerts. Picture: Kaupo Kikkas

“Some artists taking part in the festival will be recording there this autumn as the new facility builds its identity and reputation, putting North Yorkshire firmly on the cultural map,” says Jamie.

Among the line-up for the main festival will be tenor James Gilchrist; oboist Nicholas Daniel; clarinetist Matthew Hunt; North Yorkshire mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley; violinists Benjamin Baker and Charlotte Scott; violist Timothy Ridout; pianists Katya Apekisheva and Alasdair Beatson, plus many others from the classical music industry who regular collaborate with one another all over the world.

The Young Artists Recitals will be performed by the Salwa Quartet, Hill Quartet, Jubilee Quartet, Asyla Oboe Quartet and Trio Mazzolini.

As with last summer, the main festival concerts will take place in the specially adapted marquee in the grounds of Welburn Manor Farm. The venue for the Young Artists Recitals will be announced shortly; check the website,, for updates.

The full concert festival details can be found there too, with concerts regaling in such titles as The Conquering Hero; Rhapsody; La Belle Epoque; Breaking Free; Turning Points; A New Genre; Turn Of A Century; Through War; Post War Paris and Caution To The Wind.

Main festival tickets cost £12.50, under-30s, free. A season ticket for all ten costs £100. Young Artists Recitals tickets cost £10 each. To book, email, call 07722 038990 or visit

Exit 2020, now the marquee at Welburn Abbey will play host to the 2021 North York Moors Chamber Music Festival. Picture: Matthew Johnson

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,, 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

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.