First published in The Big Issue, June 29-July 5
High in the Pennines, graced with good water and a Frank Matcham opera house, the Buxton Festival (July 11-27) specialises in rare operas by famous composers. This year they stage Otello â€“ not the famous one by Verdi, but Rossini’s hugely overshadowed 1816 version. And how many of us could sing a tune from Dvorak’s neglected comedy The Jacobin? Not many, which is a shame: it’s a great piece. The central character, Bohus, is a passionate intellectual who has been to Paris to fight in the French Revolution and is now back in his small Czech hometown where he’s mistaken for a Jacobin and rejected by his community. The libretto has the usual love complications and plot twists and sombre undertones; mostly it’s the music that makes this opera so worth hearing. The vocal writing is tuneful and robust, orchestration is dark-hued and gutsy â€“ it’s Dvorak at his spirited, nostalgic, folk-infused best.
In Cheltenham, the 70th edition of the Cheltenham Festival (July 2-13) is an excuse for a programme that roams far and wide. (Some festivals stagnate with age; not here.) There is ambient noodling of the classiest sort from all-female Trio Mediaeval and trumpeter Arve Henriksen, who pair up medieval vocal music from England and Italy with Nordic folk tunes (July 13). In Steve Reich’s Different Trains, an archive recording of a holocaust survivor is woven through the thrumming string textures; no group plays American minimalism better than the Smith Quartet (July 4). The terrific English tenor Mark Padmore sings a new work by Huw Watkins, accompanied by the composer himself, alongside Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Michaelt Tippettâ€™s potent 1951 song cycle The Heart’s Assurance (July 11). And here’s a piece I only got to know recently and am very glad that I did: Grazyna Bacewitz’s First Piano Quintet â€“ a raw, vehement, French-flavoured score composed in Poland in the 1950s; a group of BBC New Generation Artists set it in context among music by Ravel and Debussy (July 10). The festival opens with a weighty programme of Schubert and late Beethoven from the Scottish pianist Steven Osborne, one of the most thoughtful and persuasive soloists of our time (July 2)
Speaking of Osborne, his latest album presents a bit of a dream pairing with the Russian-born, London-based violinist Alina Ibragimova. This is a powerhouse duo in the best possible sense: two musicians with profound creative personalities who listen to each other acutely and draw us in to their all-consuming playing. The disc contains music by Prokofiev â€“ the heavy wartime First Sonata, the softer, breezier Second Sonata and the vivid, fleeting Five Melodies. The playing is ferocious and tender, heartfelt and uncompromising in turn. [Hyperion CDA67514]
And the picturesque East Neuk Festival (June 27-July 6) is turning ten this year, and to celebrate it’s holding a Schubertiad. It’s a quaintly old-fashioned kind of a party â€“ these soirÃ©es have been going since Schubert’s day, when the composer would gather with his friends and neighbours and perform his latest music in among dancing, party games and political debate. Nowadays Schubertiads tend to focus purely on Schubert’s music and East Neuk has invited back its regular performers to do the honours: the Belcea Quartet, the Gould Piano Trio, soprano Malin Christensson and pianists Christian Zacharias and Llyr Williams. Not a bad guest list. (July 5)
AND ANOTHER THING: The Manchester Jazz Festival kicks off later this month, with heavyweights like The Bad Plus and pianist Keith Tippett mixed in among local lads like Mancunian big band Beats & Pieces. July 18-27
GO TO: York Early Music Festival. The venerable series has been hosting the great and good of the early music world since 1977; this year includes a performance of Monteverdi’s monumental 1610 Vespers from The Sixteen; Hesperion XXI and Jordi Savall, the Cardinall’s Musik and composer spotlights on CPE Bach and Rameau. York, July 10-19