REVIEW: Out to lunch at Stratford Music Festival

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2026

Clive Peacock looks at the best of the SMF’s lunchtime events at the Town Hall, 19th – 23rd October.

Not a cough, not a rustle of sweet wrapper, not a distracting sound as Luka Okros played Schumann, Chopin and Liszt at Wednesday’s 12 noon event.  This was the masterclass of the week. From the very first memorable motif of the first scene in Schumann’s Kinderscenen this young Georgian, brought up in Moscow, raised the bar for subsequent noon day performances. He showed remarkable attention to detail throughout – from the intensely urgent opening of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No 2, the immensely delicate grave:doppio – the instantly recognisable funeral march – to the brilliant playing of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2. He wowed this audience and I suspect many will welcome him back sooner rather than later. I just have one worry: are encores becoming too commonplace?  The stunning conclusion to the Liszt Rhapsody deserved to be the last notes Okros played, we did not want an encore!

Menuhin School-trained Vlad Maistorovici led a fine start to the week with the Eden Quartet playing a very fine sounding modern violin.  Their interpretation of Haydn’s String Quartet in F Major, No 5, gave this gorgeous sounding modern instrument opportunity to take charge in the lovely menuetto before the first of several new compositions in the week made their introduction.  Rob Crehan dropped out of school, worked at Next for six years before fulfilling his dream of studying composition at Birmingham’s Conservatoire. His Image and Replica deserves further performances.

Max Gibson’s …sonata… – a non-stop piece of nearly four minutes – was given its world première on Tuesday by Alessandro Ruisi, violin, with Dina Duisen at the piano. Gibson’s development is in safe hands at the Conservatoire with Leamington’s Howard Skempton. Ruis and Duisen’s performance of Brahms’s Violin Sonata in G Major was somewhat under-rehearsed and did not flow, not helped by a music stand held together with tape!

Schumann’s Fantasiestücke remains a firm favourite with clarinettists. Sarah Thurlow took advantage of her Thursday performance to extract the last ounce of dramatic frisson from this classic. Joe Cutler’s Hussle and Stomp and Wan Azlan’s The Relationship Between Sleeping and Alarm Clock challenged Thurlow and her accompanist, Jonathon Musgrave; the Cutler requiring two music stands as there is no time for page turning!

With the Okros performance still the talk of the week, the lunchtime events ended with an assertive performance by Fidelio Trio, playing Haydn, Saint-Saëns and a work by another Skempton product, Patrick Ellis. Fidelio successfully reminded us of the Saint- Saëns’s skill with his penmanship of melody.

Clive Peacock