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.
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.
North York Moors Chamber Music Festival: Turning Points / A New Genre / Jubilee Quartet, Welburn Manor Marquee, August 13-15
ANOTHER day, (yet) another special occasion at this extraordinary festival. The programme was as big a draw as you could imagine, Mendelssohn’s Octet for strings, preceded by the penultimate of Mozart’s six string quintets, K.515 in C. For connoisseurs of chamber music for strings alone, it doesn’t get much better than that.
The Mendelssohn, the work of a 16-year-old, almost singlehandedly brings back the string orchestra into existence. It requires virtuosity from all eight players but especially from the top violinist.
The way Charlotte Scott filled this concertante role was nothing short of magnificent: determined, deliberate, dazzling and utterly focused. In a word, gutsy. But the inner voices emerged here with considerable clarity.
This was all the more remarkable since four seasoned professionals were joined here by the young Jubilee Quartet (with Julian Azkoul standing in for their injured leader). The youngsters were in no way overawed by the company they were keeping. Indeed, it may be that each group inspired the other to greater heights.
A few highlights will have to do duty for a performance that will live long in the memory. The unison wind-up into the return of the opening, following a pregnant piano passage, stood out in the first movement. The slow movement was a tenderly woven tapestry, its dark opening picked up more strongly later.
The scherzo, so often associated with the composer’s ‘fairy’ music began with wonderfully taut dance rhythms, but only turned really light-footed later, a pleasing surprise. The brisk tone of the fugal finale set by the cellos was imitated with equal panache all the way up the instruments, with Scott’s virtual moto perpetuo icing the cake. The whole was breath-taking, not least from an ensemble that had enjoyed so little time to coalesce.
It is not often the Mozart finds itself as the warm-up act, normally taking pride of place. But it set the bar high. Benjamin Baker, in decisive mood, was leader here. He engaged in delightful dialogues with both cello and first viola in the first two movements. The delicacy of the slow movement heightened the eventual contrast with the finale, which was taken at a terrific clip, but superbly survived by all five players alike.
It was prelude to a great weekend. On the Saturday, two of the great Romantic piano quintets framed the UK premiere of a work for the same forces by Albanian composer Thomas Simaku. ‘Con-ri-sonanza’ deliberately hovers rather than progresses, opening with plucked piano (Daniel Lebhardt leaning inside) heard against tremolo strings, with sudden intense interjections.
The tremolo becomes eerie, the interjections more strident, until a pregnant pause leads into a gentle piano phrase and an altogether more ethereal texture with high glissandos in the stings. The piano’s interruptions gradually subside, until the cello rises up the harmonic series from its C string. Mere description does not do justice to a piece that constantly intrigues – and delighted the house.
In the opening Allegro of Schumann’s Piano Quartet, it was to be expected that the second theme would emerge so gloriously from cello and viola – Brian O’Kane and Simon Tandree respectively.
More of a surprise was the marvellous contrast between the two melodies in the slow movement, with the rests in the ‘funeral march’ given full value as opposed to the creamy legato of the major-key tune that follows. Other little details tickled the fancy: the return to the trio in the Scherzo and the short gentle interlude in the otherwise boisterous finale, where the mildly fugal ending reached a thrilling climax.
Dvorak’s quintet appeared nearly half a century later and speaks powerfully of his roots in Bohemia, an aspect emphasised here. The ensemble was spearheaded by the redoubtable Charlotte Scott, neatly partnered (as so often at this festival) by Vicky Sayles, with Katya Apekisheva’s piano providing a consistently sensitive underlay.
Jamie Walton’s cello brought an elegiac touch to the start of the Dumka and its return on Meghan Cassidy’s viola was equally nostalgic, its triplets beautifully elongated. The Scherzo was notably snappy, and the finale ebbed and flowed lusciously, thanks to a very happy balance between piano and strings.
Sunday’s lunchtime event was one of the five devoted to Young Artists, with the Jubilee Quartet – such vital participants in the Mendelssohn Octet – returning on their own, with Julian Azkoul once again heroically standing in for their regular leader, who fractured a hand a few weeks ago. Haydn was in his seventies when he wrote his last quartet, Op 103 in D minor, leaving only its two middle movements completed. The Jubilee played them respectfully and immediately showed how well they communicate among themselves.
But what followed was of an entirely different magnitude. Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ Quartet, D.810, also in D minor, is a much-played work. I hardly expected a group this young to find new insights into it. I was wrong, utterly. Co-ordination was electric and attacks incredibly precise. All the group’s ideas emerged with total clarity, led by the four-note rhythmic motif that dominates the opening Allegro.
The song-theme of the title was enunciated without vibrato before some heart-stopping variations: the leader tinting in his comments to the first one, the cello ethereal in the second, the sense of dance in the third, and the little dotted rhythm from the inner voices in the fourth … I could go on. The ending here was serene, even cathartic. Azkoul’s passagework in the trio was silky-smooth in the middle of a properly jarring Scherzo.
In the finale, the Jubilees really went hell for leather, at a dangerously rapid tempo that yet never swerved out of control. Accents were firm and determined, teamwork everywhere shining confidently through.
On this evidence, the Jubilees are bound to go far – their enthusiasm is infectious, exactly what an audience loves. They owe a great debt to Azkoul’s smiling calmness under extreme pressure: he is a superb musician. But we must also wish their injured leader a full and speedy recovery, with all four returning to this festival as soon as may be.
North York Moors Chamber Music Festival: Rhapsody, Welburn Manor Marquee
THE best-kept secret in the music world is back in business. Not that it ever went away.
Last August, North York Moors Chamber Music Festival (NYMCMF) discovered it could align with current Covid regulations by staging events in an open-sided marquee at Welburn Manor.
It was a thunderous success, such that the same venue has been re-erected this year for almost all the events, which continue until August 21 (the three exceptions, Young Artists’ events, are in St Hilda’s West Cliff, Whitby).
You may also be wondering what “Rhapsody” implies. Uniquely, this festival does not announce its performers until just before each event. They are all seasoned performers combining a holiday on the Moors with chamber music (a change is as good as a rest, since many earn their living in orchestras).
Young Artists apart, no established ensembles play here. Hence the events only have titles. “Rhapsody” covered piano quartets by Brahms and Fauré.
Two completely different foursomes were on display this time. In Brahms’s Third Piano Quartet, in C minor, the pianist was Katya Apekisheva, who has been a mainstay of the festival for several years. Her counterpart in the second of Fauré’s two piano quartets, in G minor, was Daniel Lebhardt. Both did sterling work in quite different ways.
I mention them first, not because they are more important than the other players, but because the piano can easily predominate in this form of music, all but turning it into a concerto – with strings struggling to make an impression.
Neither quartet worked out like that. Apekisheva kept a firm hand on the tiller throughout the Brahms, making very little use of the pedal and keeping her textures crisp and clear. Charlotte Scott’s violin was a willing partner in her fierceness.
But the others made their voices heard too. The viola of Rosalind Ventris was notably appealing in the return of the second theme in the opening Allegro, as was Kate Gould’s cello in the slow movement, setting a mellow tone.
The piano’s insistent chatter in the finale became big and bold – but not over the top – when C major finally arrived, and there was a beautiful fade-out before the final two crashing chords.
The Fauré was equally thrilling. Of the two pieces, it is the more rhapsodic, roaming hither and yon after the opening unison statement of intent. The ensemble as a whole, keenly spearheaded by the violin of Johannes Marmen, underlined its adventurous melodies. Lebhardt’s whirling piano in the (second) scherzo movement, imitated in all the voices, turned into a harlequinade dictating a variety of moods.
The Adagio took a while to get into its stride – the otherwise steady viola of Bryony Gibson- Cornish might have been a touch more fragrant – but it settled into a lilting rhythm before the carillon began to ring out charmingly on the way to the ethereal, muted ending.
The rolling phrases of the final (third) Allegro Molto emerged especially pleasingly in the violin, with Jamie Walton’s pizzicato cello adding urgency. The composer’s first piano quartet has always enjoyed wider currency than this one. After such an exciting account, it is hard to understand why.
Review by Martin Dreyer
For more information on the festival, head to: northyorkmoorsfestival.com
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.
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”.
“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.
“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, northyorkmoorsfestival.com, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, call 07722 038990 or visit northyorkmoorsfestival.com.
NORTH York Moors Chamber Music Festival artistic director Jamie Walton is warning against giving in to the “climate of fear that is shutting down the arts”.
“I am humbled by the sheer success of this year’s festival, a gamble which took tremendous courage and sheer willpower,” he says, ahead of today’s closing concert.
“I hope this sends powerful ripples out to motivate others to do the same. It seems tragic that we were the only live classical music festival in the whole of the UK.”
Walton and his festival musicians from Britain and overseas had “dared to dream despite the odds” by mounting the August 9 to 22 event with an apt theme of Revolution.
“We have fought back against this Government and the disgraceful, destructive way it’s shutting down industries and, more ominously, the nation’s confidence,” he says.
“We seem to be living in a climate of fear, a paralysed state, which, after talking to my colleagues at the festival, I believe isn’t anywhere to be seen elsewhere in Europe and Scandinavia right now.”
In a call to the arts world to go on the front foot, Jamie says: “It’s time to fight back against this scandal in order to save our creative industries and send a message of hope, particularly for the younger generation who are, after all, our future.
“We don’t have to put up with the reality being imposed upon us and the message sent through our festival this year was a healthy start. Creativity will not be silenced!”
The 2020 festival ends today after going ahead against the tide of Cassandra doom elsewhere when rearranged by the resolute Walton, who found a new Covid-secure location in less than a week.
For the past decade, concerts have been held in churches across the North York Moors National Park, but like so many other arts events, this year’s festival was in jeopardy, discourtesy of the Coronavirus crisis.
And 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.
The international cellist, who lives within the National Park, settled on presenting a series of 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 can be opened, in effect making the concerts an open-air event, further boosted by the good fortune of the festival being blessed 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 has 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!.
Those musicians have travelled from across Europe to perform over an “intense fortnight of concerts to emotional and appreciative audiences”, who came in their droves, pre-booking every single one of the limited number of tickets available in a socially distanced seating plan.
Jamie says: “Some of the world’s finest musicians, including Italy’s renowned Cremona Quartet, have all been playing their hearts out. Each and every one of these artists has been on incredible form and I think it’s safe to say that the atmosphere this year is the best it’s ever been, which is saying something!”
Walton points out the festival has been “the only and first work any of my colleagues have had since lockdown began”.
Among those artists in residence have been: Katya Apekisheva, Christian Chamorel and Richard Ormrod, piano; Claude Frochaux, Rebecca Gilliver and Jamie Walton, cello; Nikita Naumov, double bass, and Meghan Cassidy, Tetsumi Negata and Simon Tandree, viola.
Rallying to the Revolution! cause too have been: Rachel Kolly, Victoria Sayles, Charlotte Scott and Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay, violin; Ursula Leveaux, bassoon; Matthew Hunt, clarinet; Naomi Atherton, French horn; Claire Wicks, flute; Adrian Wilson, oboe; Anna Huntley, mezzo-soprano, and The Cremona Quartet (Cristiano Gualco, violin, Paolo Andreoli, violin, Simone Gramaglia, viola, and Giovanni Scaglione, cello).
For the Revolution! theme in the festival’s 12th year of celebrating chamber works, the focus has fallen 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 Walton.
“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.”
The programme has featured chamber music by Beethoven, Schubert, Dohnányi, Pärt, Lutosławski, Ravel, Satie, Fauré, Elgar, Bach, Mozart, Spohr, Weber, Ravel, Schoenberg, Berg, Messiaen and more.
“We have documented this year’s festival on film, to be embedded within our website next month and released through social media,” says Jamie. “We will then continue to film the building of a new recording studio, Ayriel Studios, which is being constructed up in Westerdale, opening next year as we head into our 13th festival.”
“In essence, it will be a ‘year in the life’ of a creative vision which fought its way through during the pandemic and its aftermath. I’m a great believer in true art thriving through adversity and we want to demonstrate what that means. Instead of our voices being supressed, they just got louder.”
Today’s festival-closing 3pm concert has the appropriate title of Triumph!. Next year’s 13th North York Moors Chamber Music Festival will run from August 8 to 21 and the programme will be released in mid-November.
Lucky 13? Judging by the determined spirit of Jamie Walton, success does not come down to luck, especially when a pandemic throws a curve ball. “For more information about this ground-breaking festival, visit northyorkmoorsfestival.com and join the mailing list,” he urges.
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.”
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.
Orchestra will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a
special York Barbican concert on February 15.
Almost 40 years to the day from when the orchestra was founded by John Hastie and played in a “one-off” in the York Guildhall in February 1980, the anniversary will be marked with a 7.30pm programme of works and composers from that first concert.
could have foretold the amazing journey, reputation, critical acclaim and
popularity of the Guildhall group that has developed in the intervening years?
The anniversary concert will
begin with the first piece the orchestra played in 1980: Ravel’s Mother Goose
Suite (Mere L’Oye), a showpiece for glorious orchestral tunes featuring the
talents of the wind section.
This will be followed by
the return of soloist Jamie Walton, founder of the North York Moors Chamber
Music Festival, for Elgar’s evergreen Cello Concerto. A celebratory
orchestral work by John Hastie will open the second half that will conclude with
Brahms’s Symphony No 2 (Symphony In Norahms).
This finale will call on
the whole orchestra to do what it loves doing best: play a luxurious, full
orchestral work of the Romantic period of classical music.
Tickets cost £6.30 to £17.55 on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.