NEW! The Three Choirs Festival 2016: A Preview

31/03/2016

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The Three Choirs Festival 2016: A Preview

The Three Choirs Festival, which was first held in 1715 is probably the oldest music festival in the world; is there another festival that has been in existence for over 300 years? The Festival is held in turn in one of the three cathedral cities of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester. This year, by rotation, the Festival, which takes place between 23 and 30 July, will be hosted by the city of Gloucester, The Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral, Adrian Partington, is Artistic Director of the Festival and he’s devised an enticing programme of events. All the performances mentioned in this preview will take place in Gloucester Cathedral unless otherwise stated.

This is the third Festival that Mr Partington has directed. Back in 2010 he laid down an impressive marker on the opening evening of his first Festival with a fine performance of Elgar’s The Kingdom (review) and he’ll conduct the same work on the opening night of this Festival, leading the combined forces of four distinguished British soloists, the Festival Chorus and the Philharmonia Orchestra (23 July, 19:45). That programme will open with a rare chance to hear Parry’s Jerusalem in the composer’s own orchestration.

The Monday evening concert features a work that has been a staple of the Festival since 1847, Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Peter Nardone will conduct and in the title role, making his Three Choirs debut, will be Sir Willard White (25 July, 19:45). Geraint Bowen is in charge of a programme of music by Butterworth and Vaughan Williams the following evening. The programme, entitled ‘England’s Glory’ incudes VW’s powerful but too rarely heard choral work, Dona nobis pacem. In complete contrast, the Philharmonia’s leader, Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay will be the soloist in the serene The Lark Ascending (26 July, 19:45).

Wednesday brings the massive spectacle of Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts. For this Gloucester-born conductor, Edward Gardner makes a welcome return to the cathedral where he once sang as a chorister (27 July, 19:45).  Another guest conductor, Simon Halsey, occupies the podium the following evening for ‘Mozart in Excelsis’, a programme including the Clarinet Concerto (Emma Johnson) and the Requiem (28 July, 19:45).  Festival Director, Adrian Partington conducts the last two evening concerts. On the Friday evening he couples two perennially popular works: Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (29 July, 19:45). The following evening the cathedral will surely shake to its foundations at times as the Festival ends with Mahler’s huge Eighth Symphony (30 July, 19:45).

The Mahler symphony is a piece on the grandest scale. At the other end of the spectrum, as it were, just three voices will be heard when the trio of tenors, Conductus, perform ‘The Forgotten Songs of the Middle Ages’. This programme of 13th century music helps the Festival mark the 800th anniversary of the coronation of King Henry III in Gloucester Cathedral in 1216 (26 July, St Nicholas Church, 22.15). A slightly larger ensemble can be heard the previous day when the twelve voices of Stile Antico perform sacred and secular music ranging from medieval times to the Renaissance (25 July, 14.45).

The solo voice of tenor James Gilchrist can be heard in an opening day recital which reflects the Festival’s charity, Mindsong. This organisation uses music to enrich the lives of people suffering with memory loss and dementia. Gilchrist, himself a trained doctor, is the president of Mindsong. His programme takes in music by Berlioz, Mahler, Wolf and Gurney among others (23 July, St Barnabas Church, Tuffley, 14.45). The same venue hosts a recital by Marcus Farnsworth who will include in his programme the first performance of Sonnets of Petrarch by the exciting British composer, Matthew Martin (27 July, 14.45). Another new work, this time a choral piece, will debut at Cirencester Parish Church. The St Cecilia Singers will give the first performance of Philip Lancaster’s War Passion, a Festival commission, which they’ll couple with the beautiful Requiem by Howells (24 July, 15.30).

Other notable events include a concert of Howells, Ravel and Schubert by the Carducci Quartet (26 July, St Barnabas Church, Tuffley, 14.45). There’s a fascinating programme of choral arrangements by The Rodolfus Choir and Ralph Allwood (28 July, St Peter’s Church, 10.30). The following day the Three Choirs Festival Youth Choir will make their annual appearance. This year Geraint Bowen will direct them in Rossini’s delightful Petite Messe solenelle (29 July, 11.00). Let’s hope no one from Trading Standards is around for Rossini’s piece is neither ‘petite’ nor solemn! Saturday brings the distinguished organist Thomas Trotter to Gloucester. He’ll be putting the cathedral organ through its paces in a wide-ranging programme that has several Gloucester connections (30 July, 11.00)

Throughout the Festival Choral Evensong will be celebrated in the cathedral on most evenings, generally at 17.30. However, on 27 July the service takes place at 15.30 because it will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. Adrian Partington will conduct the Three Cathedral Choirs for the broadcast and the music will include the setting of Psalm 60 by his father, Kendrick Partington, who died in 2014, and The Gloucester Service by Ian King, which is a Festival Commission.

The Philharmonia Orchestra will once again be in residence throughout the Festival. The well-established partnership between the Three Choirs Festival and the Philharmonia is becoming ever more fruitful.

There are some 50 events during the Festival so this preview has only scratched the surface. The full programme can be downloaded from the Festival website

Postal booking opens to the public on 11 April. From the same date telephone bookings can be made on 01452 768928. On line booking is available from 11 April. Details of how to book can be found here.

John Quinn

 

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