The Chipping Campden annual music festival is something of a phenomenon. Built up over the past few years by the local wine merchant (and the former pianist) Charlie Bennett, it has attracted world-class artists such as Alfred Brendel, the Borodin Quartet and, for this concert, Julian Lloyd Webber. For the first time, it has its very own Festival Academy orchestra made up of a mix of professionals and students. Very good they are, too. On this occasion, they were conducted by Thomas Hull and led by the delightful young violinist Ruth Rogers. Handel's Concerto Grosso curtain-raiser was performed with panache, if not the utmost precision.
Doubtless part of the reason so many great musicians are beating a path to this gem of a Cotswold town is the wonderful acoustics of St James' Church the Borodin Quartet reportedly said they were the best they had experienced in Britain.
The acoustics are as clear as a bell, especially when the church is packed to the rafters. This makes it a particular pleasure to hear an artist of the calibre of Julian Lloyd Webber negotiating the notoriously difficult finale of Haydn's Cello Concerto in C major with such extraordinary ease. Before that, he had enraptured the audience with his breathtaking control of dynamics in the wonderful slow movement that dares to tread paths that are never predictable.
The best was yet to come with the world premiere of Howard Goodall's And the Bridge Is Love for cello, strings and harp. Haunting and deeply emotional, it was beautifully played by Lloyd Webber, who has made a habit of promoting new music, and came over as an intensely personal statement, apparently dedicated to a friend of the composer who died last year at the age of 16. While contemporary in expression, it is written in a recognisably British style, reminiscent of the very best string pieces by Bridge, Britten and Tippett and with a strong hint of Vaughn Williams no mean achievement. I predict that Goodall's heartfelt lament could easily enjoy a permanent place in the repertoire.
Thomas Hull then put the Festival Orchestra through its paces with a rousing account of Haydn's Symphony No 104, "The London", although the metropolis never felt so far away. There were beaming faces all round and a happy throng afterwards in the local hostelry opposite St James'.
With its beautiful setting, great acoustics and focus on artistic excellence, the Chipping Campden Music Festival has fast become an enviable role model.
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