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Haydn Cello Concerto Review
Wistfully elegiac: Festival Academy Orchestra
With its glowing, picture-postcard setting, Chipping Campden in rural Gloucestershire is the perfect place for summer music-making. Now in its seventh year, the town's festival has definitively carved out a niche for itself, attracting top-flight artists to play in the spacious and acoustically favourable St James's Church.
It has also secured a devoted audience, which packed the pews and additional plastic seating for this programme centred on Handel and Haydn, with the world premiere of a new piece for cello and orchestra by Howard Goodall.
One of the festival's innovations this year is the formation of the Chipping Campden Festival Academy Orchestra. Thomas Hull will be familiar to many in the music business as a leading artists' manager, but here he also showed his mettle as conductor of an ensemble that was modestly sized but apt for the Baroque and Classical repertoire.
It was made up of professional players and gifted students, the proportions apparently being half and half, and opened the concert with a performance of Handel's Concerto Grosso Op 6 No 5 that had stately grandeur in the overture and a crisp way of dealing with the close-knit passagework of the faster movements.
The same measure of vitality and keen observance of scale underpinned Haydn's C major Cello Concerto, in which Julian Lloyd Webber, though invisible from my vantage point, established an aurally appreciable bond with the orchestra, combining elegance and geniality with bracing rhythms and buoyancy.
He was also soloist in And the Bridge is Love by Howard Goodall, well-known for his TV, film and stage scores and now the country's national ambassador for singing. Singing was at the heart of the essentially lyrical And the Bridge is Love, not perhaps a work that is going to stop the world in its tracks but one that is easy on the ear in its wistfully elegiac way.
Beginning in a shrouded atmosphere vaguely reminiscent of the mood Rachmaninov evokes in The Isle of the Dead, and with the harp as a prominent feature, it lightens its spirits in the manner Elgar might have adopted, gently passing a motif between cello and orchestra and creating an aura of mild reflectiveness.
More robust material followed in the shape of Haydn's Symphony No 104, given a performance that combined exhilarating drive with poignant shaping in the slow movement, and identifying an orchestra that deserves to become one of the festival's prized assets.