North Norfolk Music Festival preview

Tony CooperThe North Norfolk Music Festival goes from strength to strength, Tony Cooper reports on another wonderful gathering of musical friends.Tony Cooper

The North Norfolk Music Festival goes from strength to strength, Tony Cooper reports on another wonderful gathering of musical friends.

Huw Watkins - described by a leading national critic as a pianist of alert intelligence and a composer with something to say - opens the festival (now in its fifth year) on Friday September 4 with a concert in the spacious surroundings of St Mary's Church, South Creake, one of the finest of Norfolk's medieval churches adorned with a host of multiple-coloured angels gazing down from a splendid single hammer-beam roof. The concert (starting at 7pm) includes two world premi�res for viola and piano featuring the distinguished violist Simon Rowland-Jones, joint artistic director of the festival with Barry Cheeseman. The concert also exploits the intriguing link between Beethoven's Moonlight sonata and Shostakovich's sonata for viola and piano, the composer's final and very profound utterance.

St Mary's (the festival's principal venue) hosts a talk by BBC Radio 3 presenter Susan Sharpe on Tuesday September 8 (4.30pm) focusing on three of Leipzig's most celebrated composers: JS Bach, Schumann and Mendelssohn. Her talk will prepare the way for the Schumann day on Saturday September 5 and for Martin Cousin's piano recital on Tuesday September 8.

And the Belcea String Quartet - a flourishing ensemble with strong links to the Norfolk and Norwich Music Club - find themselves in the Creakes for the first time on Sunday September 6 (8pm). The quartet (now in its 15th year) continues to enjoy an enviable reputation as one of the best in the world. They open with Haydn's C major quartet, op. 20, no. 2 and continue with Szymanowski's first string quartet and Beethoven's B flat string quartet, op. 18, no. 6.

A day with the Schumanns - Sunday September 6 (3.30pm) - features John McMunn (tenor) accompanied by Simon Lepper (piano). His programme includes a lovely collection of songs by Robert and Clara Schumann culminating with the great song-cycle, Dichterliebe (The Poet's Love). And the story of the intense relationships between Robert and Clara and the 21-year-old Johannes Brahms will be told in a programme comprising music and readings starting at 8pm. Award-winning pianist Lucy Parham will play music by all three interspersed with extracts from letters and diaries read by celebrated actors, Joanna David and Martin Jarvis.

The subcontinent comes to South Creake on Monday September 7 (6.30pm) with a performance of Indian classical music performed by an international trio of musicians each presenting what will surely be a thrilling and atmospheric recital. Tabla player extraordinaire Sirish Kumar - who masterminded the programme - will collaborate with vocalist, composer and actress, Najma Akhtar, and sitar player, Jonathan Mayer, who's also a composer and co-founder of Indo-Jazz Fusions.

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The distinguished pianist, Martin Cousin, returns to the festival on Tuesday September 8 (7pm) - two years after his spectacular d�but - but this time round plays works by Bach and Mendelssohn ending his recital with a performance of Schumann's Davidsb�ndlert�nze composed in 1837 and a representation of the Davidsb�nd, Schumann's imaginary and spiritual brotherhood of artists.

Members of La Serenissima - directed by baroque violinist Adrian Chandler - can be enjoyed on Wednesday September 9 (7pm) playing a truly Venetian programme looking at Antonio Vivaldi and his Italian contemporaries - Tartini, Albinoni and Galuppi.

The festival travels to St Margaret's Church, Burnham Norton, on Thursday September 10 (6pm), where the Smart String Quartet (from Chetham's School in Manchester) will play a rather entertaining programme to include Hindemith's hilarious take on a hung-over village band playing the overture to the Flying Dutchman 'as played at sight by a second-rate string quartet at the village well at 7 o'clock in the morning'! A very young quartet, they've only been together for a couple of years and their average age is still only 14. Works by Haydn and Shostakovich completes the programme.

The Atos Piano Trio from Berlin - winners of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson International Trio Award 2007, the most important award for piano trios in the United States - make their festival d�but on Friday September 11 (7pm), offering a delightful programme comprising works by Haydn, Ravel and Schumann.

And following her acclaimed Bach recitals at the 2006 festival, Julia Cload returns to Norfolk - Saturday September 12 (3.30pm) - to play works by two other composers with whom she's also closely associated, Haydn and Liszt. She actually studied at the Liszt Academy in Budapest and as such it brought her into close contact with many distinguished musicians associated with the works of both composers. Her recordings of the Haydn piano sonatas have been much lauded.

The Saturday evening concert (8pm) sees the Carducci and Brodowski string quartets team up with Simon Rowland-Jones playing an inviting programme comprising Beethoven's C major string quintet, op. 29, Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence for string sextet and a new octet written especially for the festival by Simon Rowland-Jones and receiving its world premi�re.

The final concert - Sunday September 13 (3pm) - features the world-renowned mezzo-soprano Felicity Palmer accompanied by Simon Lepper. The singer's universally regarded as one of the most important of her generation and has thrilled audiences in an astonishing number of roles at every major opera house in the world. She has intriguingly given the title 'Women on the Edge' to her recital and one can expect songs by Purcell as well as Schumann's Mary Stuart songs and Dvor�k's gypsy songs along with works by Tchaikovsky, Kurt Weil and others.

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