Sparkling play

PUBLISHED: 16:38 09 June 2008 | UPDATED: 21:54 15 June 2010

This year s Honiton Festival opened with a stunning violin and piano recital but it came to an end with a veritably explosive concert given by the Musica Vitae Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

This year's Honiton Festival opened with a stunning violin and piano recital but it came to an end with a veritably explosive concert given by the Musica Vitae Swedish Chamber Orchestra. This leading Scandinavian ensemble included in its programme a piece by one of its compatriots, Ingvar Lidholm, his Music for Strings. At 87, he is considered to be Sweden's leading living composer, with an avant-garde reputation.

When I spoke to the orchestra's conductor, Staffen Larson, he expressed great enthusiasm for Lidholm's music and his innovative writing for the orchestra, and was pleased to have the opportunity of introducing the Honiton audience to the music of his countryman.

It proved to be a powerful piece which explored fully the range of the strings' tonal qualities, with an ever present sense of tension.

The programme opened with a lively account of Holst's popular St Paul's Suite. The Swedish players seemed to bring a new perspective to this very English music which even utilizes the well-known tune Greensleeves.

The highlight of the programme was a sparkling performance of Haydn's Cello Concerto No1 in C major with one of Britain's greatest cellists, Guy Johnston, as soloist. Lost until 1961, when it was found in the collection of the Prague National Museum, it has been hailed as the rediscovery of the age, as this occasion amply proved.

Then there was music from Sweden's next door neighbour, Norway, with the popular Holberg Suite of Grieg, played almost with what seemed a special insight. And to round off the concert, and the festival, there was more English music, with the delightful waltz from The Miniature Waltz Intermezzo by Frank Bridge.

Earlier in the week there had been something very different in an illustrated talk by Minnie Churchill. She spoke about 'The Life of Churchill Through His Paintings'.

The festival has been one of the very best in the 20 years of its existence, with a glittering line-up of great artists of international repute, including clarinetist Emma Johnson, pianist Freddy Kempf and countertenor James Bowman. What small country town could have bettered this? As good as St Paul's Church is, in many ways, the only thing that the festival still lacks is a really good venue.

Much of the festival's current success must go down to its energetic chairman Jenny Duffett, its administrator Noel Barrington-Prowse, and the professional expertise of its musical director Ambrose Miller.

John Dalton


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