18 Jul 2016
The Cambridge Summer Music Festival opened on Friday evening with a stylish flourish. Ensembles do not come more classy than the ûber- talented Schubert musicians with the élan to tackle the most fiendishly written slices of the classic repertoire – their latest recordings of Saint-Saens and Chausson came out on the Chandos label this Spring.
Little wonder that such a collection of accomplishment got a warm reception at the inaugural event of the Festival. Music lovers are aware that this band have performed in music venues from Berlin to Bermuda, USA and China, 80 in all, and are feted by record companies and broadcasters as the crème de la crème of musical accomplishment.
And Trinity College Chapel is the right place for them. Daunting lists of stellar scientists line the walls, all alumni of this most august of institutions, and just walking past the statues of Newton, Byron and Tennyson made no secret of just how splendidly grand are their achievements. Settled into the ancient oak choir stalls which must have propped up many a sleepy singer down the long centuries since it was built, the scene was set for a tour de force – string aristocracy meets the élite of academia.
Yet the concert had nothing grandiose about it. Like much of the Summer festival programme, it was a delightful surprise. A world premier of a simple but stunning piece, Sea Cradling, gently lulled all sense of self importance from the atmosphere. Here we were, in the presence of its composer Jeremy Thurloe, drifting away on a Suffolk sea, rocked by musical waves which developed into a full-scale symphony of sound. 'It was a very small idea,' he confessed to the audience. 'But I stayed with it, developed it and it alone.'
The result was a delightful interlude of serene simplicity. Next up for these masters of music, players who have conquered the head-spinning complexity of Schumann and Dvorak was a piece by Cheryl Frances-Hood – also sitting modestly in the audience. The Whole Earth Dances followed her spiritual journey through Ted Hughes Wodwo sequence of poems and traces her simple walks through the thistles and ferns of her own daily life in the countryside. An almost premier, it was only first performed in June in Spitalfields, this was a moving evocation of the timeless poems of Hughes, a place where history has come to a standstill and the land of the Vikings is as near as the nearest motorway.
To hear something as arresting and fresh as these two mini modern masterpieces from Thurloe and Frances-Hood was an unexpected thrill. To make up a trio of little heard musical genius, came the forgotten composer Frank Bridge with a beautiful, optimistic slice of melodic mastery-Phantasy Quartet. Written for a competition it fitted wonderfully well into an evening gently celebrating the best of the English nature tradition.
The evening finished with a joyous piece of music from Vaughn Williams, unmistakably music from the author of the Lark Ascending. It was a soaring, slice of string delight to gladden the heart on a warm summer’s night.
After almost two hours of lyrical sound, it’s hard to select a player as outstanding, but Peter Buckoke bent athletically over the double bass, particularly in Thurloe’s piece, was an intriguing tour de force – and a chance to see that hulking great instrument, normally only glimpsed at the back of the orchestra, given free weighty rein for a performance that reached the parts other instruments cannot.
The sheer versatility of this ensemble is truly breathtaking, so many notes, so much versatiity and such intellectual and emotional control. A hard act to follow but I have a feeling that somehow, this Festival will manage.