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Brixworth Music Festival 2022 - Revue


The revival of the Brixworth Music Festival which took place from 6th to 8th May was a great success. Despite misgivings after an enforced two year break, the concerts were well attended and there was a general feeling that people were glad that the festival was back again. Compared to earlier festivals this was on a modest scale, partly due to a much depleted committee and also to an apprehension during preparations last year that we may have to cancel again. But, with the help of many volunteers, we can be proud that we pulled off an event that gave much pleasure to audiences that have been starved of live music during the past few years.


First up on 6th May in the evening was a delightful concert of early music played by two distinguished ensembles who ideally complemented each other: Polyphonica, a trio which specialises in recorder music, and Sarah Small and Friends, a trio specialising in early stringed instruments. Polyphonica members, Simone Reid, Grace Barton and Michael Piraner played a varied programme in the first half entitled “The Pilgrim's Delight”, with works from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It was as if the Church of All Saints in Brixworth had been waiting for this ensemble to come along and fill its space with their exquisite playing. The audience was enthralled by the sound and the programme was well balanced with just the right mix of calm, meditative music and more sprightly dances and songs. The second half of the concert  was the perfect compliment to the recorder sounds of the first half. The ensemble Sarah Small and Friends, with Sarah Small and Harry Buckoke playing the viola da gamba and Jonatan Bougt on the theorbo, played a largely French programme with music by the most famous composer for the viola da gamba, Marin Marais  as its focal point. The sounds of these early instruments had a special,  intimate quality, which held the audience's attention from start to finish. Most moving was their interpretation of Marais's “Tombeau pour Mr de Sainte-Colombe” which, as Sarah Small said before the performance, reminded her of the terrible sadness of the lockdown during the pandemic.


Next morning (7th May) Vivienne Olive, together with the pianist Oksana King, gave an introduction to the piano music of Beethoven. Originally planned for the festival in 2020 was an orchestral concert to celebrate Beethoven's 250th birthday. Unfortunately Beethoven had to wait two years for his belated birthday present and meanwhile the Brixworth Festival Orchestra had disbanded and their conductor, Peter Dunkley, had moved to Manchester. This celebration was on a rather more modest scale, but none the less of great interest to the surprisingly large audience who came along. Beethoven's piano music is possibly the best introduction to his music as it spans his whole life and acts as a testament to his development as a composer and illustrates the gradual transition from the Classical Period to the Romantic Era which took place at the beginning of the 19th century, his works becoming ever more personal and experimental. Vivienne Olive's explanations regarding style and form were ideally complimented by Oksana King's interpretation of his Sonatas nos. 6 and 7, and two more well known pieces. Her performance of the very difficult “Die Wut über den verlorenen Groschen” (Anger over a Lost Penny) was virtuosic, followed by the ever popular and gentle “Für Elise”.


In the afternoon Oksana King could be heard again, this time playing together with the pianist Andrew King (no relative!) It is not often that one has the opportunity of listening to a recital of piano duets and this was particularly entertaining. Beethoven was honoured once again and, along with works by Ravel and Stravinsky we were treated to a number of Brahms' Hungarian Dances and Waltzes, without which no piano duet recital would be complete. Both pianists seemed to be having great fun and no doubt it was the glorious May weather that was responsible for the rather small but nevertheless very appreciative audience.


In the evening a very mixed programme was on offer. The “Evening of Poetry and Song” has always been a regular feature of the Brixworth Music Festival, and is always exactly that: a variety of words and songs with  range of different styles. The first half of the evening was opened by the Brixworth poetry group “Word Play”  reciting a variety of both well-known and original poems written by members of the group. This provided an ideal introduction to the young Brixworth singer, Sam Pickles, who sang  songs from local composer Stuart Cooper's musical, “Wonderland” as well as a selection of classical songs. Very memorable was his performance of “Comfort ye” from Handel's Messiah. He was ably accompanied by percussionist, Mark McHarg and pianist, Adam Holinghurst.  The second half of the evening was opened, once more, by “Word Play” with a number of amusing poems, one extolling the undoubted advantages of living in Brixworth! And then we were delighted to welcome back Chloe Willson-Thomas (former Rector of Brixworth All Saints) and her husband Gwion Thomas.  Gwion and Chloe, together with Vivienne Olive, helped to establish the Brixworth Music Festival in 2014. As well as singing duets, including Vivienne Olive's “Sweet Te Deums”, Chloe performed the beautiful Cuatro Madrigales Amatorios by Rodrigo, and Gwion sang Three Shakespeare Songs by Quilter.  Oksana, once more, provided the excellent piano accompaniment, and this altogether very varied and interesting evening was brought to an end by the entertaining Victorian duet, The Spider and the Fly. 


On the final day of the festival (8th May) there were two afternoon concerts. The first was Ian Clarke's long awaited organ recital on the refurbished organ of All Saints. This was a particularly important event in the festival calendar two years ago because the winning piece of the 2019 Women Composers Competition was to be performed. With the cancellation of the festival in 2020 and 2021 the composer Florence Anna Maunders had to wait until this year to hear her winning piece, “Canons and Inventions”. Florence was due to come along to the first performance but was unfortunately prevented by illness. Her piece was well received by the many listeners in the audience who were intrigued by the different effects and sound combinations on display. Ian Clarke gave a virtuosic performance and integrated this work into a extraordinary programme of music that included works by Buxtehude, Bach, Mendelssohn, Hindemith and Vierne, a programme that took us on a journey not only across Europe but also across time.


The festival was then brought to a close by a concert that gave young and very young local musicians the chance to perform. Starting off with the Year II Choir of Spratton Hall School the first half of the concert gave us the opportunity of hearing the very youngest members of the community. After a variety of songs performed by the choir we heard a very gifted young singer, Edward Black. Particularly memorable was his rendering of Handel's “Where'er you walk” which was ideally suited to his voice.  Once more, Oksana King stepped in to accompany on the piano. The children's voices were then followed by the Tarrega Guitar Ensemble of the Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts Trust. Special mention should be made of soloist, Theo Broxton, particularly his haunting interpretation of Yuquijiro Yocoh's “Sakura” (Cherry Blossom). There are plenty of young gifted musicians in the Northamptonshire Community.


All in all the revival of the Brixworth Music Festival this year was very encouraging and we are looking forward to getting it back to it's original format. Thank you to all those who took part – performers, volunteers, members of the committee, and so many others who worked away in the background. And thank you to Rev. David Reith for letting us use the wonderful venue of Brixworth All Saints. It's good to be back!


Vivienne Olive


Brixworth Music Festival

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