St George's Guildhall, Lynn
This Lynn Festival concert defied categorisation. Rooted in the Scottish isles, it celebrated the internationalism and diversity of Britain. While its electronic adventuring was futuristic, it was balanced by traditional instruments. Punctuated with attractive passages of folk guitar and vocals, fiddle and accordion of heart-lifting lyricism, these operated like islands in a sea of experimentation. Discordant notes and (very loud) noise, occasionally threatened to overwhelm the tunes but then these too were seamlessly steered into the overall musical design. This gave the audience the double satisfaction of fearless improvisation within carefully crafted structures. The concert began with the trio - two floppy haired young men, one shaven headed - wandering on to the band's powerhouse - a combination of accordion, primitive strings and synthesiser - and collectively doodling until music emerged. I was reminded of 'prog rock' in its exciting first phase with its brilliant fusion of folk, classical and jazz. The humour of the introductions - our scorching weather reminded them of Shetland; 'Horizontigo' was "about a Scotman's fear of lack of heights in the fens" - completed the pleasure of an evening spent with gifted musicians who wore their talents lightly. 'Prog-folk' anyone?
Lynn Corn Exchange
The acclaim of a sell-out Lynn Festival crowd as the 10 piece band assembled - along with the wry self -deprecating stage chat ('Newcastle will always be just a small city in Europe') (applauded) - spoke for itself. The curiously courtly accent, humour and fey folk-sadness of Northumberland is a most attractive part of the music. This particular set rarely emerged from its slow wistful tempo into the excitement it harboured - and then usually accompanied by clogs! - and, while the twin female vocals, unison, lead and support, or meshed in bewitching harmonies, had a sustained haunting beauty - the songs ultimately lacked variety. This was not due to any restriction in the instruments. On the contrary, for a folk band, the musical forces on display were enormous - two lead vocalists, sometimes joined by a third; a grand piano; strings; double bass; a rock-stadium drum kit and a (superb) trumpet - and while all fabulously talented, this multiplicity of players sometimes distracted from the heart of the music. When the group was simplified to the vocalists and a couple of instruments, their ability to take you away into folk heaven was re-affirmed.
A perfect King's Lynn Festival afternoon. Four dazzling young performers from four different corners of Europe playing one of the masterworks of European civilisation - Beethoven's 'Harp' Quartet in E Flat - and introducing (to these ears) a delightful homage to the great classical string quartets of Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn - Schumann's Quartet in A Minor. Formed at London's Royal Academy of Music, the group's unity was remarkable. The packed studio theatre setting allowed a rapt audience intimate access to every detail of the enthusiastic, energetic, emotive yet always meticulous playing. Lynn festival plans to programme the entire string quartets of Beethoven in coming years, a most exciting prospect and, from the famous pizzicato opening to the unique finale of variations, this mid-period masterpiece of brilliance, drama and intense beauty - consolidating previous achievements before moving on to the ethereal new ground of the last quartets - was an excellent place to start. A red admiral brought a breath of the perfect summer day and the only vocal sound from the performers (a gasp from the viola player) before Schumann's romantic and lyrical, beautifully crafted birthday gift to his wife successfully followed.
Lynn Festival attracted another national treasure and full house to its premium venue and the affection in which Lesley Garrett CBE was held was clear from the opening Dowland ditty to the encore she dedicated to the England cricket team ('The Impossible Dream'). En route she took us from 'serious' (but never sombre) classical - Mozart, Bizet, Vaughan Williams - to the popular standards of the twentieth century - Coward, Flanders, Rodgers - without ever quite letting us forget the classically trained soprano with a distinguished (comic and serious) operatic career behind those glamorous frocks, along with the popular TV career. Her ability to live each song in every fibre of her being, physically transmitting each note, recreating it for the audience like a method actor while filling an auditorium without amplification, is astonishing. In this talent she was matched by baritone Roland Wood, combining operatic pedigree with a deliciously light touch, whose 'wicked' solo spots, comic presence and witty commentaries included show-stealing performances of Bizet's 'Toreador's Song' and Flanders' 'Have Some Madeira, M'Dear.' Accompanist Anna Tilbrook gave prodigious support throughout and her contribution to the soaraway success of the evening was felt by all.