"England in summer. It’s a reason for being alive.
Bridgnorth for Haydn (and Housman); Buxton for overlooked opera; Cheltenham for chamber music in the Pittville Pump Room. In York they go in for early music, and at Hereford, this year’s setting for the famous Three Choirs Festival, they will be performing Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. It’s all wonderful, and, in every church and concert hall, every night and day, somebody will be hearing something for the first time.
Tonight, for instance, the English Music Festival is in full swing at Dorchester – Dorchester-on-Thames, that is, not the Dorset town. If you want to go to Dorset then next month the festival at Plush, organised by Adrian Brendel, the cello-playing son of Alfred, may be a good time. Andras Schiff and Imogen Cooper, two more great pianists, are performing there on one of four weekends devoted to chamber music.
Last week Brendel and Cooper, accompanied by the violinist Henning Kraggerud, performed both Schubert piano trios in the church of St James at Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. In some ways the Chipping festival, which closed last night, is the best example of what a music festival can be. Established in 2002 by Charlie Bennett, a local wine merchant and keen amateur pianist, it attracts superb musicians from all over the world and now takes up two full weeks.
In 2008, the year he retired from public performance, Alfred Brendel opted to give one of his farewell recitals there, so pleased was he with the church acoustic. Paul Lewis, one of his protégés, is the festival president and next summer he will play the five Beethoven concertos with the festival’s academy orchestra. The orchestra, composed of professionals and gifted students, closed this year’s programme last night with the fourth symphony of Brahms.
It was every bit as wonderful to sit in the church last weekend to hear Lewis play the last three Beethoven sonatas, with the hues of evening filtering through the stained glass windows, as it was to be at Glyndebourne. The following night brought the Takacs Quartet in Haydn, Debussy and Franck, and if you are interested in chamber music then you may think they are the greatest quartet in the world. Regulars at Chipping, too. That shows how the festival has taken off. It can’t hurt Chipping’s cause that the village lies between Cheltenham and Stratford-upon-Avon, where four counties meet, in the heart of England. It’s a place people are happy to visit at all times of year, and it makes a natural home for a festival. There is now a literary festival, which drifts into the musical one, and, given time, that is likely to become a major attraction."
Thank you, Michael, and come back soon!