Review: Lichfield Festival beings back joy of live music

Joy of joys - the hugely popular Lichfield Festival, a 10-day celebration of music and the arts attracting audiences from all over the region, is back.

Soul legend Mica Paris. Photo by John Watson.
Soul legend Mica Paris. Photo by John Watson.

And what a wonderful programme has been lined up for the audiences in Covid-19 compliant venues in the city, writes John Watson.

The opening weekend featured a performance of Giselle by Ballet Cymru, folk singer Eddi Reader, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, soul legend Mica Paris, plus a host of young rising-star classical performers in chamber concerts.

The festival opened on July 8, and featured a tremendously engaging performance at Wade Street Church by young Moldova-born violinist Ionel Manciu, with pianist Ayaka Shigeno.

Their interpretations of the Debussy Violin Sonata No.2 and the Schumann Violin Sonata No.2 were delivered with real passion. The Schumann work is epic by sonata standards, at more than 30 minutes, but Manciu and Shigeno made this emotional rollercoaster of a work compelling.

On Saturday, a jazz performance of Beatles songs by pianist Jonathan Gee’s Quartet at The Hub offered many delights: engaging instrumental versions of Michelle and Blackbird, and a deeply funky Come Together, with the brilliant alto saxophonist Alex Garnett in full flight.

But in a show billed as a jazz tribute to the Fab Four it was strange that Gee chose to sing two unrelated standard showbiz songs: You Must Believe In Spring, and Gershwin’s But Not For Me. This last song demands a greater vocal range than the pianist possesses, to avoid straining on the higher notes. But Not For Me is a great song, Mr Gee, but not for you.

The festival’s Artists In Residence this year are violinist Chloe Hanslip and pianist Danny Driver, and it was unfortunate that their second concert kicked off at St Michael’s Church at 8pm on Sunday, the very moment that England and Italy began their Euro Final clash.

Driver told the very sparse audience: “Thank you for coming. I can’t think why anyone would want to be anywhere else tonight.”

I was delighted to be at the musical performance, however. Their programme included a vibrant interpretation of the César Franck Sonata in A minor, and a charming rarity by French composer Lili Boulanger, D’un Matin de Printemps.

The festival continues to Sunday, July 18.

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