In Hertford, Hereford or Hampshire – as Professor Higgins has it – hurricanes hardly happen. But a minor one hit Hampstead and Highgate this week in the form of the twin suburbs' intriguing and adventurous music festival.
Barry Millington's programming is fresh and original and, frankly, a gift for BBC audiences. So where was Radio 3 for some of the funkier events on offer: a frolicsome satirical opéra bouffe premiere, London, Here I Come!; the Andrusier Ensemble premiering young Hans Rott, much admired by Mahler; or Moonlight Revels, a Shakespearean tryst for trumpet, saxophone and orchestra that would be a surefire hit at the Last Night of the Proms?
Take the first, a rarely heard gem by Jean Françaix, brilliantly updated and Londonised by John Sidgwick, delivered with aplomb and polished verve by Huw Rhys-Evans (as the Paris Jedermann, updated to Dave, a Harry Enfield Essex lad), Thomas Guthrie, a terrific baritone (as the toff who treats Dave as his own Eliza Doolittle) and the superb Gillian Keith, backed by the punchy Vasari Singers under Jeremy Backhouse. Such French operetta is a genre yet to be plumbed.
Earlier, Vasari had ventured into Massenet's rare Chansons des bois d'Amaranthe; while the recently formed New Millennium Saxophone Quartet (the instrumental backbone of the Françaix) twiddled and parped gloriously through the Suite on Popular Romanian Tunes by the avid folk-collector Jean Absil.
Dove's showpiece came in the opening concert at St Jude on the Hill: the Lutyens acoustic worked marvels for the Britten Sinfonia strings, whose warm legati matched peerless Tippett (the Double Concerto) and alluring Richard Rodney Bennett (Reflections on a Theme by William Walton) with Walton himself (two pieces from Henry V, ravishingly played).
"Trite but terrific" could sum up Dove's new concerto, which stems from his score for Stratford's recent production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It too is a causerie, a stand-up row and reconciliation between Oberon and Titania. Dove's music mimics Bartok and apes Adams, and at times the sax sounds more like Puck or Bottom. At the Sunrise, fuzzy strings just outweighed the soloists. But what a joyous showpiece! The Calland sisters, Deborah (trumpet) and Beverley (saxophone), are stunning performers. The piece lifts off like a James MacMillan potboiler. You won't get much better TV viewing than two feisty women battling it out on male-aura instruments. Some smart advertising exec should snap it up quickly.
Continues to 25 May (020-8423 4121; www.hampsteadandhighgatefestival.co.uk)
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