Review: Ryedale Festival, Triple Concert, Castle Howard, July 12

WHAT a splendid idea: three fine concerts, performed three times, the audience all moving on during the intervals. This year’s Ryedale Festival is off to an auspicious start.

In Castle Howard’s Baroque-meets-Arts and Crafts chapel, young vocal group Echo, directed by Sarah Latto, gave a fittingly diverse potpourri of old and new sacred miniatures, with the odd improvisation thrown in. The group’s versatility, graceful musicality and the individuality of their voices yielded bright-eyed energy, which suited the space.

Under the central dome in the Great Hall, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts took a Grand Tour of 16th and 17th-century music from England via Spain and Germany to Venice, interspersed with appropriate solos from organist William Whitehead.

The aural splendour, the bright, mesmerising tone, the relaxed virtuosity – and the occasional humour and rustic joyousness – produced by this long-established group were a delight.

It was a nice touch that all three concerts began with Purcell: a theme of this year’s festival. In the Long Gallery, the Elias Quartet enlarged this idea by continuing with Benjamin Britten’s prodigious Purcellian homage, his String Quartet No. 2. With deeply felt ebb and flow, the work’s thematic unity and inventive structure were made crystal clear. From the first movement’s relaxed opening gesture to the tumult of its reprise, through the second movement’s muted obsessiveness and the Chacony’s strongly characterised variations and consummately realised virtuoso cadenzas, it reached a tumultuous C major exultation. A performance to treasure.

Robert Gammon

Ryedale Festival, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Hovingham Hall, July 14

SUMMER seemed finally to have arrived on Sunday evening, as it somehow does whenever the Ryedale Festival returns. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) are old friends here and took to the old riding stables like a duck to water, revelling in its warm acoustic with an all-Bach programme.

The First Orchestral Suite is in reality a triple concerto for two oboes and bassoon. OAE’s trio were at the top of their game, dancing their way through several minefields with gay abandon. In particular, the oboes’ ornamentation was superbly synchronised. Their bassoonist colleague subjected his natural virtuosity to their needs, listening acutely. The result was stunning.

The same combination was involved in the Sinfonia to Cantata, No 42, which sets a glorious evening scene, with throbbing chords under the gently undulating woodwinds. OAE played it lovingly enough to have us believe it to be one of Bach’s great undiscovered masterpieces.

OAE’s leader, Kati Debretzeni, was soloist in the Second Violin Concerto, shading her phrases beautifully even at high speed. She also found magical serenity in the Adagio.

The Double Violin Concerto, BWV 1043, with Margaret Faultless and Matthew Truscott leading in fine-spun dialogue, found the remaining players equally at ease with its unrelenting demands.

The Second Suite, essentially a flute concerto, enjoyed Lisa Beznosiuk’s nimble expertise. Her tempos were rapid – almost too much in the Badinerie – but right from the opening fugue, her colleagues remained cool, maintaining smooth, world-class ensemble. Martin Dreyer