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Review: Lichfield Festival opening weekend

The Lichfield Festival never fails to produce really special productions, and in its 40th year this mainly classical event has excelled itself.

Violinist Eleanor Corr - thrilling performance at the Lichfield Festival
Violinist Eleanor Corr - thrilling performance at the Lichfield Festival

Festival director Damian Thantrey and his team had the brilliant idea of staging a celebration concert at the city’s cathedral on Saturday featuring 40 voices, one for every year of the festival.

There are few works for as many as 40 voices, but the festival was able to present two; the stunning 16th Century motet Spem In Alium by Thomas Tallis, and a special commission - From Silence - by Thomas Hyde, with text by author Alexander McCall Smith.

The massed voices swept round the cathedral stonework in powerful waves as they performed Spem In Alium, which translates from the Latin as “Hope In Any Other”.

The commissioned work, performed with the composer present, was immensely stimulating, communicative and richly textured.

The massed voices were made up of The Carice Singers, the octet Pieces Of Eight, and the Gentlemen Of Lichfield Cathedral Choir, with Patrick Craig and George Parris sharing the conducting duties.

The 150th milestone of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams falls this year, and his works are being extensively featured in this year’s festival. The cathedral concert included his gorgeous Mass In G Minor, interwoven with more works by Tallis.

The previous day, the brilliant young violinist Eleanor Corr, accompanied by pianist Emil Duncumb, thrilled the audience at Wade Street Church with the dramatic Violin Sonata by Janacek, the rhythmically twisting Sonata No.2 by Grieg, and a spellbinding version of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending.

Another fine young musician, French horn soloist Ben Goldschneider, appeared with the Goldfield Ensemble at St Chad’s Church on Sunday (JULY 10), giving the premier concert performance of Vaughan Williams’ Horn Sonata, the draft of which was only discovered in 2019. The ensemble concluded with a captivating version of the composer’s Quintet in D Major.

The festival, featuring jazz and drama as well as classical music, continues until Saturday July 16

By John Watson

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