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Well finally it’s Festival Time again, now under new Director Fiona Stuart, and good omen! This year the weather has decided to play ball and keep us all swelteringly cheerful even in the chilly precincts of the cathedral whose east wind after 9pm was this year blissfully absent, inducing a very un-British euphoria that lasted the whole night through.
This year’s opening show mixing sexy violinist Nicola Benedetti and the sublime European Union Chamber Orchestra with ex-Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion was an astute piece of marketing plucked from the sweetie tray of festival fayre masking an unexpectedly delightful surprise centre.
New Baybe on the block Benedetti had a job on her hands sexing up the Four Seasons of Vivaldi’s now over-familiar baroqueries from Classic FM-inspired adverts. She gave it her hair-flying best shot, but the Chamber Orch. seemed strangely ill at ease, the very cathedral’s acoustics here seeming somehow at fault. Motion’s poems on – guess what? – the four seasons seemed also uneasy, cobbled on, as his vaguely doomy, modishly ecological murmurings matching all four seasons trickled awkwardly out. Faux-perplexed about whether or not he could dare to get away with using the old poetic chestnut that claims nature mirrors human emotion (i.e. are robins cheerful, or not?) he wimped and whimpered out with the idea that winter really means death, etc. Roll on Carol Ann Duffy next week.
After the interval hiatus I was expecting a further downhill roll. Instead, the Chamber Orch., now shorn of their PR-added star came into their own, settled down and showed pure, unique, exquisite accuracy, artistry and sophistication. I thought I knew Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence but here it seemed to have been made just for these few, a perfumed postcard needing only the late, great (actually still-living) Ken Russell to show on giant back-projections a steam journey across romantic Tuscany to match the emotional journey of the piece. The second movement seemed one of the most beautiful things I have heard in a month of Sundays, a patch of clear sunlit sky, like a tiny Renoir. Then they did an encore. Elgar? Grieg? We just don’t know. But beautiful.
A startling start to the 29th Lichfield Festival. Keep it coming, Fiona. You’ve arrived.
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