Arcadia Music St Laurence's Church, Ludlow by David Hart

Mixing a theme with composers the little three-day Arcadia Music festival on the Shropshire-Hereford border has aquirky individuality that is certainly different. This year the focus was on Bach and spirituals (though I failed to spot any relevance between them in baritone Thorvald Blough’s rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ at the start) which two piano works by the festival’s originator, Eleanor Alberga, addressed quite persuasively.

In ‘It’s Time’, played with virtuosic commitment by Joanna MacGregor, Alberga’s extended improvisatory style evocatively referenced African chant (once the rumbling left-hand tremolos had run their course) and the piece eventually faded out in gentle waves of elegiac ecstasy.

‘Oh Chaconne!’, a deconstruction and reassembly of the finale to Bach’s D minor Partita was more cogently fashioned, if rather too reliant on decorative patterns; but when things became increasingly muscular and energetic (Alberga herself performed with considerable aplomb) the effect was surprisingly powerful. Its quiet denouement also served as a segue to the violin original, delivered by Thomas Bowes with considerable authority and tonal variety (plus a few wild moments), and structured in paragraphs rather than discrete variations.

And it was cohesion that drove MacGregor’s reading of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and made it so compelling. Yes, there were occasional smudges, wrong notes and blurred passage-work; but her light-fingered tonal control chiselled the might of Ludlow’s new Steinway into something approaching forte-piano proportions, while her impeccably neat ornamentations (generously enhanced on repeats) evoked a harpsichord’s crisp delicacy. With fast - often dangerously so - tempi when required and no romantic wallowing this was a truly barn-storming performance.

--David Hart

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