Review: Ryedale Festival, Julian Bliss/Carducci Quartet, Duncombe Park, Helmsley and St Peter’s, Norton, July 19 and 21

ACE clarinettist Julian Bliss is not officially an artist in residence at Ryedale Festival, but he has played an important part.

At Duncombe, he and pianist Christopher Glynn were the backbone of a coffee concert centred on Brahms. In Norton, he joined the Carducci string quartet in Weber’s quintet and distinctive works by David Bruce and Roxanna Panufnik.

Bliss and Glynn rode the tidal waves that open Brahms’s First Clarinet Sonata nonchalantly, before settling more intimately into a serene adagio, a chirpy scherzo and a witty finale. Cellist Camille Thomas joined them in the Clarinet Trio, intensifying the sense of romantic yearning encapsulated in the first movement (originally intended as the opening of a fifth symphony).

Cello dominated the song-like arioso that followed. Balance was at its best in the charming andantino with its two trios, and the brief finale was wonderfully stormy. Rosalind Ventris was the fluent if mildly self-effacing soloist in three Clara Schumann romances, for viola and piano, which were in turn autumnal and rhapsodic. We ought to hear more of Clara. Jess Dandy brought a robust mezzo to the two lieder, Op 91, developing a shapely vocal line.

Bliss and the Carduccis raised the roof with David Bruce’s Gumboots (2008), which refers to South African labourers’ footwear in flooded gold mines. Its innocent opening, with bass clarinet, is deceptively calm. What follows, with normal clarinet, is a whacky dance that grows increasingly wild, with jazzy syncopation, crazy cross-rhythms, trills and eventually all three together. The enjoyment of all five of these brilliant players was irresistibly infectious.

Bliss’s virtuosity shone through Weber’s Clarinet Quintet. His ultra-soft chromatic runs took the breath away. Weber’s irrepressible gaiety, despatched with immense panache, made this one of the festival’s most deeply enjoyable pieces. In between, Roxanna Panufnik’s Modlitwa was a beautiful, elegiac contrast.