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The players were especially alert to dynamic shading

Musical Opinion, Paul Conway

Now in its 41st year, the Presteigne Festival continues to offer an unrivalled combination of top-flight music-making and inventive, thoughtfully constructed concerts in the idyllic setting of Radnorshire…

In the evening concert at St Andrew’s Church on 27 August, clarinettist Robert Plane, violist Rachel Roberts and pianist Chris Hopkins preceded familiar repertoire by Mozart and Lutosławski with three substantial instrumental works. Speak Seven Seas (2011) by Huw Watkins was a sea-related trio cast in a single, tightly knit movement, laced with unexpected colours and ear-catching gestures. Stirring and darkly expressive, Urizen (1983) by John Hawkins began with an extended solo viola cadenza, passionately declaimed by Rachel Roberts, and continued with a closely argued dialogue between viola and piano that constantly shone new and unexpected light on a recurring four-note motif. A festival commission, Michael Berkeley’s The Magnolia Tree received a polished premiere. Flowing with graceful, spare counterpoint, this trio became evermore Bachian until the moving final bars of The Art of Fugue that inspired the new piece were revealed.

The players were especially alert to dynamic shading in a work of carefully calibrated textures that seemed to grow out of, and returned to, rapt silence.

Showcasing the Festival Orchestra’s versatility and resourcefulness, the Festival Finale is invariably a memorable occasion and the 2023 event at St Andrew’s Church met every expectation … After the interval, soloist Robert Plane joined the musicians in the premiere of the orchestral version of The First Swallow, for clarinet and strings by Sarah Frances Jenkins. Taking inspiration from Charlotte Smith’s poem about the springtime return of the swallow, this warmly resonant ode to nature developed logically and affectingly out of a spacious opening clarinet solo.

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