Festival Finale

Symphony No.13 in F, K112
Elgar arr. David Matthews
Intermezzo (from String Quartet, Op.83)
Cello Concerto in C
David Matthews
Introit, Op.28
Serenade for Strings, Op.20
Concerto in C for two trumpets, RV537

Gemma Rosefield (cello)

Daniel Newell &
Angela Wheelan (trumpets)

Hampstead and Highgate Festival Orchestra
George Vass

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 23 May, 2004
Venue: The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead, Church Row, London, NW3

A full house for this final concert of the sixth Hampstead and Highgate Festival, and rightly so. This was music for a summer evening performed with verve and finesse in the sympathetic surroundings of the beautiful church of St John-at-Hampstead by a youthful orchestra made up of some of the capital’s finest young professionals under the sympathetic direction of the Festival’s new music director, George Vass.

The area has long been home to musicians, artists and writers – Elgar, Delius, Ferrier, Beecham, Curzon, Brendel, Menuhin, Kovacevich, Hewitt, Lill – even, at one time, Karajan. Still very much two villages linked by the Heath, Hampstead and Highgate’s distinctive location high above London is an ideal spot to stage a festival with strong community links and still retain a distinctive village atmosphere.

“Celebrating Elgar in Hampstead” was the musical leitmotif of this year’s Festival – this is not to forget some interesting literary events – with this closing concert featuring two of his works, the infinitely touching Serenade, stylishly performed under near-ideal circumstances with deepest emotion, and a work billed as Intermezzo, an arrangement by David Matthews of the slow movement of the Elgar’s sole String Quartet. A particular favourite of Elgar’s wife, Alice, it was played at her funeral in 1920. When performed as here, with real commitment, it works well.

A concerto featured in each half of the programme. Haydn’s early C major Cello Concerto was given its first modern performance in 1962 in Prague by Milos Sádlo, a great and underrated artist who sadly died earlier this year. Here the 22-year-old Gemma Rosefield, a pupil of Ralph Kirshbaum and member of the Fidelio Piano Quartet, played it – she’s a name to watch out for. While it would be possible to criticise minor lapses of intonation, her crisply rhythmic playing in the outer movements, and her spinning the finest of lines in the Adagio, confirm she is deeply musical.

Of each half’s opening works, Mozart’s youthful symphony was played with bustling vigour and a fine ear for dynamics, and David Matthews’s Introit (for two trumpets and strings) proved to be a deeply felt and passionate piece. The trumpet soloists’ florid parts were well-synchronised from opposite balconies, and there were eloquent solos from violin, viola and cello, respectively Martin Smith, Rebecca Chambers and Rebecca Layton.

To close the programme we had the appropriately celebratory tones of Vivaldi – played with joyful exuberance by Daniel Newell and Angela Wheelan (the latter standing in at short notice for Alison Balsom). As an encore, to send us off in the right mood, we had the exuberant Tango from David Matthews’s String Quartet No.10 – and finger-tapping good it was!

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