Sunday Times Culture Hot Tickets 2018
Sunday Times music critic Hugh Canning named the Southwell Music Festival as one of his ten Hot Tickets for 2018 in the 7 January Sunday Times Culture Section, saying:
“Marcus Farnsworth has put the tiny Nottinghamshire town with an exquisite minster on the map in a short space of time: his fifth festival features a performance of Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, while the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2016, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, plays Elgar’s Cello Concerto.”
Reviews of the Christmas Celebration concert
Nottingham Post, 27 December 2017, reproduced below:
“Friday’s trip to Southwell had a touch of pilgrimage about it. Thick fog may have made driving hazardous but it also made first sight of the Minster even more welcome and its Celebration of Christmas a source of light amid the encircling murk.
The programme too was a sort of journey: six sections, each comprising music and words, starting with the ethereal (Hildegard of Bingen’s exquisite O viridissima virga) and ending with a wonderfully comic arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas, complete with uncannily accurate goose impersonations.
The variety of responses to the festive theme packed into this 90-minute concert was one of its most remarkable features. Medieval contemplation of mystery and miracle rubbed shoulders with composers of all subsequent eras; the smoothly lyrical (Irving Berlin’s White Christmas) with the compellingly jagged dissonace of Thomas Adès’ Fayrfax Carol; the earthiness of Gaudete with the celestial splendours of Kenneth Leighton’s Of a rose is all my song. Peter Cornelius’ The Three Kings was one of many highlights: deeply spiritual and emotional music uniquely combining song melody above and chorale tune below – and beautifully performed by soloist and choir.
Actor David Oakes (Prince Ernest in ITV’s Victoria) brought dramatic energy to the spoken texts: the familiar (Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Eliot’s Journey of the Magi) together with lesser-known pieces by writers such as Hardy, Chesterton and Wendy Cope.
Conductor Marcus Farnsworth has already proved in four summer Festivals his credentials as a master of the choral epic. On Friday he proved to be a consummate miniaturist too, moulding jewel-like performances from his 14 hand-picked singers. Solo and ensemble singing doesn’t get any better than this. Focus was razor-sharp, dynamics were thrillingly controlled, diction was crystal-clear, beauty shining from single sustained notes as well as soaring complexity.” (William Ruff)
Preview from Robert Hugill, 14 December 2017
Reviews of the 2016 Festival
“Fitting finale to the Edinburgh Festival
Hugh Canning sees flair and ambition rewarded in performance of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, and heads to Southwell to hear a splendid Gerontius
During the final weekend, I made a brief excursion to the Southwell Music Festival in Nottinghamshire, for their big event of the bank holiday weekend. Two years ago, they began with Haydn’s Creation. In 2015, it was Mendelssohn’s Elijah. This year, ever more ambitious, the festival’s artistic director Marcus Farnsworth’s choice fell on Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius.
The young baritone, who sang two performances of Schubert’s Schwanengesang earlier in the week, plies his second trade as a conductor of increasing mastery, assembling his choral and orchestral forces mainly from friends and confreres from his student days. The artistic results are remarkable. The 39 professional choral singers made a huge sound to rival the big amateur forces Elgar envisaged, but effortlessly created a sense of intimacy in Southwell’s beautiful, far from grandiose Minster. There is a palpable sense of a community in this tiny market town, wanting to experience music at the highest level, and Farnsworth, a former chorister at the Minster, and his colleagues are providing it.
Casting the rising tenor David Butt Philip in the title role proved an inspirational choice. His performance suggested a voice of both Verdian and Wagnerian potential in Sanctus fortis and the climactic Take Me Away! He is far too young to be Elgar’s old man, but the inwardness of his singing of the more contemplative music was arresting. He will surely go far in the role. Anna Stéphany’s velvet-voiced Angel delivered the text with clarity and the consoling music with great beauty of tone. David Soar was the commanding Priest and Angel of the Agony. A splendid and moving Gerontius.”
The Sunday Times, 4 September 2016
“Thousands of visitors attended the third Southwell Music Festival, making it a huge success.”
The Newark Advertiser, 31 August 2016
William Ruff for the Nottingham Post (download pdf)