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
“Anyone who doubted that conductor and Artistic Director Marcus Farnsworth could possibly work such magic again must now feel certain that his supremely high standards of music-making are to be the hallmark of the Southwell Music Festival for the foreseeable future.”
The Nottingham Post, 29 August 2016
“Thousands of visitors attended the third Southwell Music Festival, making it a huge success.”
The Newark Advertiser, 31 August 2016