Chetham's School of Music at Lichfield Cathedral by Richard Bratby
The Lichfield Festival’s Saturday night spectacular had an air of déja-vu. A few years ago, when the Festival was in a near-terminal artistic slump, the combined music staff of Lichfield Cathedral and its School stepped in to show how the job should be done with a superb weekend-long celebration of Benjamin Britten using only local artists, including a triumphant staging of Noyes Fludde.
This was a sort of re-creation: with (as far as I could work out) Chetham’s School of Music providing the core of the orchestra, and schools and amateur musicians from all over the Staffordshire providing the “animals”, the pealing handbells and the general atmosphere of celebration. Under Freya Wynn-Jones’s direction, it all coalesced around big-hearted central performances from Jonathan Gunthorpe (Mr Noye) and Polly Leech (a feisty Mrs Noye), and while electronic amplification created more audibility problems than it solved, the brilliance of Britten’s sonic imagination – from clattering raindrops to the overwhelming swell of the flood itself – came through with real freshness.
Then Jac van Steen conducted Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra in an exuberantly virtuosic performance of Holst’s The Planets, plus Colin Matthews’s Pluto – not that you’d know it from the glossy but unhelpful printed programme. It’s a pity that we couldn’t know the names of the solo singers and dancers in the Britten, or the oboe, horn, violin and cello soloists who phrased so exquisitely in the Holst. And why, in the Britten, did the audience in the aisles get (vitally necessary) surtitles, but not those in the (presumably pricier) nave? The young performers played with such commitment and finesse that it feels churlish to ask.