Review of the 2011 St Davids Cathedral Festival
This review has been written by Alexander Mason who was the Festival's previous Artistic Director. Alexander Mason is now Director of Chapel Music at Shrewsbury School.
The Festival opened for the second year with the Children’s Festival Chorus giving the first performance of Alexander L’Estrange’s Zimbe in Wales. The choir was made up of 80 children from local schools in Pembrokeshire and joined by St Davids Cathedral Choir, Boys’ Choir and Cathedral Singers as well Alex L’Estrange and his fabulous ‘Call Me Al’ jazz quintet. Rehearsals had been taking place separately in schools since March but came together for the first time on the afternoon of the concert. Alex L’Estrange was at his charismatic best in the afternoon demonstrating the ‘embarrassing Dads’ dance’ and for the concert the Artistic Director had the honour of conducting in one of the band’s African tunics! All of the children involved enjoyed tea at St Davids scout hut between the rehearsal and the concert. Following the reception in the transept, the quintet returned to the Cathedral later that night to perform a set of jazz standards and some of their own compositions.
This year’s Festival commission was ‘A Sequence for St Davids’ written by renowned composer, Francis Grier. This project had been a couple of years in the making and saw the Cathedral Choir team up with star cellist Natalie Clein for the world premiere. This may have been the toughest musical challenge the choir has ever faced and yet they took it in their stride with both Francis Grier and Natalie Clein full of praise for the sound the choir made. Soprano Natalie Clifton-Griffith stood in at very short notice to sing the soprano solo which was a remarkable feat and Cathedral Assistant Organist Simon Pearce was on scintillating form on the organ. The second half was a very moving account of Fauré’s Requiem with the Festival Chamber Orchestra. The following night Daniel Hyde gave a popular organ recital which included Jongen’s Sonata Eroica, magnificently played.
The highlight of the Festival, for me, was hearing Jan Garbarek ‘live’ with The Hilliard Ensemble in their atmospheric programme ‘Officium Novum’. This Bank Holiday Monday concert, unsurprisingly, was packed to the rafters with members of the audience coming from far and wide to hear the legendary jazz saxophonist. The Carducci String Quartet was in stunning form on the Tuesday night and I’m sure that this young ensemble has a very bright future ahead. The Robeson Legacy concert with Sir Willard White brought one of the greats of world opera into such an intimate setting, accompanied simply by guitar and piano and beautifully introduced by the artists. The audience absolutely loved it! For me the second highlight of the Festival was the concert by Red Priest which was a most polished performance and an incredible display of virtuosity, musicality and memory. The communication between performers and audience was remarkable. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales concert was as excellent as ever and Isabelle Faust’s performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto was one to savour. The Festival Chorus was in fine form for Puccini’s Messa di Gloria and Poulenc’s Gloria and we were joined by a splendid team of soloists. I had many comments from members of the Chorus saying how much they enjoyed learning the works and I think that really shone through in their singing.
This year we moved the 12pm lunchtime concert series to an 11am mid-morning berth, the first of which was given by the exceptionally talented young flautist and winner of Young Musician of Dyfed, Catrin Price with Dorothy Singh on piano. Timothy Parsons, organ scholar of Hereford Cathedral impressed with his virtuosic concert. The highlight of the mid-morning series was the debut concert of the Boys Choir in the Nave. This group of boys has come a long way in a short time and I really hope they continue to grow.
The coffee concerts in the refectory exhibited our three talented choral scholars and the second was given by the promising young flautist Cathy Hare and her accompanist Stuart Evans.
Last year Claire Jones was unable to perform due to illness, so we were delighted she was able to play this year at Llanrhian to an audience of Pembrokeshire friends.
There were three late-night concerts this year and The Vicars Choral and Choral Scholars have made the Thursday night concert one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the Festival. Joy Cornock and Bethan Semmens performed the majority of their programme in Welsh and it was nice to hear Geraint Lewis’s Penillion y Plant. We enjoyed the Gough Duo with Natalie in late-romantic German music. I have to say that this final concert was really astonishing music making and the music was exquisite and had all the serenity of Strauss’s 4 last songs. Natalie Clifton-Griffith was on great form again and Rachel Gough’s playing was sublime, with such purity in the high tessitura and the balance with her organist husband Rupert was perfectly judged.
As well as the concerts there were exhibitions by Rozanne Hawksley, Grahame Hurdwood and Sarah Young as well as a talk with Rozanne Hawksley and Sally Moss at the Deanery which were of great interest and enjoyed by many.
The Cathedral Choir’s singing of the services continued the high standard they have shown all year. The Festival Eucharist took a different musical angle this year as the choir sang unaccompanied music entirely from the Renaissance period. The Choir broadcast Choral Evensong on Radio 3 again and judging by the comments, this was extremely well received. They gave a terrific airing of Finzi’s God is gone up as well as the Radio 3 premiere of David Briggs’s St Davids Jubilate and it’s the third year in a row we have presented newly commissioned music on Radio 3. This year we also increased the number of mid-week services with evensong from the men, Boys’ Choir and an Ascension Day Eucharist by the Cathedral Singers.
Finally, I would like to offer my thanks to you, the committee, for your tireless effort and support in helping to make this yet another successful and extremely memorable Festival. We are fortunate that St Davids Cathedral is a magnet for visitors and with a programme of concerts from such high calibre artists, reasonable weather and first-class hospitality in the Festival Marquee we were able to attract, yet again, fantastic audiences for most events for what has proved to be one of the finest Festivals here in memory.
All the photographs on this page have been taken by Philip Clarke and are reproduced by kind permission. To see additional photographs of this year's festival please refer to the Photo Archive 2011.