This England - - Forget Me Not - STU­ART MILL­SON

Who could have fore­seen, way back in the au­tumn of 2006, that a fes­ti­val en­tirely de­voted to the lost, forgotten and undis­cov­ered com­posers of the English Mu­si­cal Re­nais­sance (roughly the pe­riod be­tween the 1880s and 1920s) would reach its grand 10th an­niver­sary mile­stone? Thanks to the vi­sion, be­lief, pa­tient work and sin­gle-minded de­ter­mi­na­tion of the fes­ti­val’s founder, Em Mar­shall-luck, this unique con­cert se­ries has now be­come an es­tab­lished event — at­tract­ing some of Bri­tain’s finest per­form­ers, from the BBC Con­cert Orches­tra and con­duc­tor, Martin Yates, to that newly emerg­ing star of recitals and opera, mezzo-so­prano Kathryn Rudge — who, at this year’s event, gave a mag­nif­i­cent per­for­mance of works by Herbert How­ells, Gerald Finzi and Sir Ed­ward El­gar.

This year’s May Bank Hol­i­day was a busy time at Dorch­ester Abbey in ru­ral Ox­ford­shire, the abbey be­ing the main con­cert venue of the week­end fes­ti­val. An ea­ger and de­voted au­di­ence of English mu­sic en­thu­si­asts en­joyed the world pre­miere per­for­mance of Vaughan Wil­liams’s score, Fat Knight — an in­tri­cate and at­mo­spheric blend of se­quences from the com­poser’s Fal­staff opera, Sir John in Love. With scenes of me­dieval ale-houses and a spec­tral Wind­sor For­est, all em­broi­dered with folk tunes, such as “Greensleeves”, the piece fully suited the splen­did BBC Con­cert Orches­tra — spe­cial­ists in the mu­sic of these is­lands.

Satur­day morn­ing at the abbey brought a change in tone, era and en­sem­ble, with The Queen’s Six — a group of bril­liant young men who usu­ally work and sing at St. Ge­orge’s Chapel within the walls of Wind­sor Cas­tle. Mak­ing their jour­ney to Dorch­ester-on-thames, they brought with them the mu­sic of the time of El­iz­a­beth I — madri­gals and motets by Byrd, Tal­lis and Or­lando Gib­bons, the com­posers of what might be termed the first English mu­si­cal re­nais­sance. How­ever, The Queen’s Six had one hu­mor­ous sur­prise for us: a witty song all about those Tu­dor and El­iz­a­bethan lu­mi­nar­ies sung to the tune of “Wide­combe Fair”! The con­cert ended in noble mood, with the singers pay­ing trib­ute to our long­est reign­ing monarch (now cel­e­brat­ing her 90th birth­day!) with “God Save The Queen”.

Other high­lights from the week­end in­cluded the in­tense and en­er­getic Con­certo for Vi­o­lin and Cello by a con­tem­po­rary of El­gar (but now al­most com­pletely forgotten) Percy Sher­wood. Vi­o­lin­ist, Ru­pert Mar­shall-luck — with his col­league, cel­list Joseph Spooner — soared to great heights, ac­com­pa­nied by the English Sym­phony Orches­tra con­ducted by the charis­matic John An­drews. But their con­cert be­gan with a work very much in our own time, the Over­ture Ad Fon­tem (“To the source”) by Daniel Gilling­wa­ter (born 1963). Thought­ful, well-con­structed and very much be­long­ing to the tune­ful, tonal world of an older English tra­di­tion, Daniel’s com­po­si­tion bodes well for the fu­ture of our mu­sic.

With talks and much so­cial­is­ing, a fes­ti­val bus-ride to nearby Sut­ton Courte­nay church (this was for a Shake­speare af­ter­noon — com­plete with tea and cake!), a late-night line-up of tra­di­tional fid­dle-play­ing from the folk mu­si­cians of the Old Swan Band and some 1930s’ nos­tal­gic num­bers from the New Fox­trot Ser­e­naders, the 10th fes­ti­val was a re­sound­ing suc­cess. Just like Daniel Gilling­wa­ter’s over­ture, the oc­ca­sion took us to the source of our mu­sic: to the mead­ows and hill-forts of Ox­ford­shire, to the up­per reaches of the Thames, and into the very heart of what it means to be English.

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