REVIEW: Sublime times at Stratford Music Festival

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Clive Peacock heads to the Stratford Music Festival: seeing Toby Young with Contemporary Concert at the Shakespeare Institure on 21st october; and then Laura Van Der Heijden and Alison Rhind at the Town Hall on October 22.

Exciting times for Toby Young with new works premièred by harpist Catrin Finch with Armonico Consort earlier this month and a new work presented by Contemporary Consort as part of last week’s festival. Next Spring the Stratford Choral Society will perform another new Young work, A Shakespeare Cantata, to be conducted by Stephen Dodsworth.

Young admits to a ‘middle class rebellion’ in his teens when he began playing the bassoon and jazz.  This small-scale bombshell emerged during an interview with festival Artistic Director during an evening of contemporary, modern and romantic music. At sixteen he won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition before becoming a Cambridge Choral Scholar where he was tutored in composition by Robin Holloway, described by Young as ‘an insane bloke and a brilliant mentor’.  Young is happy with a ‘jobbing composer’ tag; however, he is clearly in big demand. His Jubilate composition reflects his choral days, with snippets of plainsong and the jazz interventions of his misspent teens! Young was not alone in having new works displayed.   KES student Thomas Banbury’s Asterian Nocturne was notable for the intense piano, clarinet and cello played in unison; Timothy Salter’s Shadows, the most evocative of the new offerings.

Another BBC Young Musician winner, Laura van der Heijden, oozed class as she sailed through Beethoven’s Cello Sonata working in perfect harmony with pianist Alison Rhind.  So, too, Glinka’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, with its fearsome low register challenges, was met with virtuosic brilliance. However, things changed in the second half when Alison Rhind’s competence in handling Rachmaninov’s keyboard demands shone through – indeed, at times overshadowing van der Heijden.  There can be few pianists who cope as well as Rhind does, making it look effortless, even though she would be the first to admit she did not play all the notes in the score! Overall this was a Festival highlight, a sublime evening.

Clive Peacock