The Twelfth English Music Festival – 25-28 May 2018
This is the twelfth year in which Founder-Director, Em Marshall-Luck’s English Music Festival has flourished in Oxfordshire – principally at Dorchester-on-Thames (25-28 May 2018). If you had a shelf for the EMF’s annual programme books it would be groaning under their fulfilled promise and delivered substance. That may be the beginning but it’s certainly not the end. The EMF has publishing and recording wings which have added to the deserving cause of English music primarily of the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. Premieres of new lyrical works by living composers, completions of scores left in tatters or without closure, revivals of works long unheard — there are few challenges the EMF have not identified and met – often triumphantly. They have also tackled and continue to present heartland works by Delius, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Stanford, Bax, Bliss, Howells, Britten, Bowen, Moeran, Gurney, Finzi, Bantock, Butterworth, Walford Davies, Holbrooke and Boughton. Satellite EMF events have spun off under the aegis of the Festival including one-off concerts in London and elsewhere and Autumn Festivals in the Yorkshire Dales; this year’s takes place: 5–7 October 2018.
May 2018 sees Owain Arwel Hughes and Hilary Davan Wetton conducting British orchestral and choral works; the UK première of Richard Blackford’s Violin Concerto; the Armonico Consort appear in a semi-staged performance of Dido and Aeneas. There’s also a dramatic programme about Dame Ethel Smyth. A personal, and no doubt invidious, selection across a mix of fifteen talks and concerts also includes a rare hearing for Delius’s Double Concerto for Violin and Cello as well as many chamber, song and choral concerts.
This is not to overlook Andrew Burn’s talk on Bliss’s music of the 1920s-30s¸ the same composer’s Music for Strings, Vaughan Williams’ In Windsor Forest and British Light Piano Music – a selection by pianist and radio presenter Paul Guinery. Richard Deering – a very long-time champion of British piano music – can be heard in works by Alwyn, Bliss, Bowen and others. There’s a talk and a concert by Rupert Marshall-Luck charting a voyage through the violin-and-piano works of Sir Hubert Parry, a commentary-linked performance entitled Ethel Smyth: Grasp The Nettle. Other concerts include Gurney The Western Playland, Howells Phantasy Quartet; a talk on Gustav Holst: the impact of the First World War and a grand concluding orchestral concert at Dorchester Abbey (where many of the events are held) with works by Dyson (Woodland Suite for string orchestra), Warlock, Delius, Howells, Finzi, Vaughan Williams, Ireland (his Elegiac Meditation) and Arwel Hughes’ Fantasia in A minor; the Arwel Hughes is, I think, the father of the conductor Owain Arwel Hughes (1909-88) and the Fantasia is said to date from 1936. Good to see that the EMF’s enlightened decisions (Stanford and Arwel Hughes) continue to be taken regardless of issues of strict English nationality.
It’s an incomparable line-up and one you will not see matched anywhere else; still less in just four days.
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