Chipping Campden Festival


St James' Church, Chipping Campden ****
Elgar's Enigma Variations provided a fitting ending to this year's Chipping Campden Festival, sealing the triumph of an enterprise which has grown from success to success in its 18-year history.
Chipping Campden is a Cotswold-stoned jewel of a village, crowned by the imposing St James' Church where almost all the two weeks of concerts have taken place, and approached past the welcoming Eight Bells inn.
Its festival attracts many of the world's finest performers, as well as encouraging development of the young. Saturday's concert combined both threads, bringing Eric Lu, winner of last year's Leeds International Piano Competition, to perform Chopin's First Piano Concerto.
Lu's technique is dashing and assured, his pianism rippling and full-toned. Perhaps too full-toned in this clear and immediate acoustic, the Steinway model 'D' piano cheek-by-jowl with the packed audience delivering a rather hard timbre.
Accordingly, charm in this elusive work was in short supply, though Lu did sing a full-throated song in the Romanze, with an eloquent bassoon descant from within Thomas Hull's remarkable Festival Academy Orchestra, who provided a lively accompaniment throughout.
The FAO is quite amazing, professionals sharing desks with rising students, and under Hull's direction achieving stupefying feats of note-assimilation as well as of ensemble (the players are seated all the way across the rood-screen and way back to the furthest reaches of the chancel, yet the sound emerges as one).
And they did a fantastic job in giving the world premiere of David Matthews' Concerto for Orchestra. No flashy showpiece, this (though there were some brilliant solos, not least from lead violinist Ruth Rogers), but more of an appropriately Cotswolds pastoral symphony.
The 25-minute piece is well-built and surely-structured, with at its heart a wonderful wind evocation of birdsong over long-held strings. Sometimes we hear a subtext of the Ritual Dances from Tippett's Midsummer Marriage (Matthews' two outer movements are Spring and Summer Dances), and what better role-model than that?
That one of this country's major composers should be commissioned to write such a piece is surely a tribute to the stature that the Chipping Campden Music Festival has attained. And all the organisation and front-of-house I encountered was spot-on. Other more bumbling efforts, take note.
Christopher Morley

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