Lichfield Festival opens with top performers - review

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The 36th Lichfield Festival opened in stylish fashion, with a popular classical programme featuring an outstanding young American pianist with one of Britain’s finest orchestras.

Andrew Tyson gave a dazzling performance of the demanding Paganini Variations by Rachmaninov, with Ryan Wigglesworth conducting the Hallé Orchestra. The concert in Lichfield Cathedral on Friday had opened with Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan, and concluded with an admirable performance of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Eroica.

The following evening the music in the cathedral, celebrating the works of Richard Rodgers, was lighter in character, but hugely enjoyable. An outstanding cast of solo singers – Katie Hall, Francesca Jackson, Kate Valentine and Damian Thantrey – brought Rodgers’ Broadway show songs to life in spectacular style, accompanied by the fine student musicians of the Chetham’s Concert Orchestra conducted by Stephen Threlfall. Songs including “ My Funny Valentine”, “Betwitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, delighted the crowd. Only the twee narration by TV star Russell Grant, offering what he irritatingly called “little factoids” about the songs, disrupted the flow of the music.

On Sunday, two contrasting concerts – featuring the ESTuudio Youth Choir at Lichfield Cathedral School, and Mr McFall’s Chamber Group at the Garrick theatre - brought considerable musical satisfaction. The purity and awesome power of the choral voices was breathtaking, with gorgeous Estonian works including the great national composer Arvo Pärt’s “Morning Star”.

The McFall quartet’s performance of works by Samuel Barber, John Adams and Steve Reich was exceptionally stimulating, with Reich’s masterpiece “Different Trains” played with tremendous zest.

The festival continues until July 15.

By John Watson


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