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Review: Chipping Campden Festival Academy Orchestra at St James' Church, Chipping Campden

You only have to leaf through its programme to see that the Chipping Campden International Music Festival is a class act.

Chipping Campden Festival Academy Orchestra at St James' Church
*****
International pianist Paul Lewis
International pianist Paul Lewis

You only have to leaf through its programme to see that the Chipping Campden International Music Festival is a class act – with Paul Lewis, no less, as president. But even so, I didn’t expect it to be this good.

The Festival’s Academy Orchestra is made up of young professionals (including several CBSO Youth Orchestra alumni) alongside freelance veterans, and it’s as smart and virtuosic a chamber orchestra as any in the Midlands.

Under Thomas Hull, Stravinsky’s rhythmic death-trap of a Symphony in C was edgy and brisk, and showcased a terrifically characterful woodwind section. If it never quite felt entirely relaxed, that’s probably down to Stravinsky as much as anyone.

Lewis opened Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto with a chord that felt like it had coalesced out of the silence, before releasing a performance of almost supernatural brilliance and fantasy. His tone shone fiercely from within: any thought that he’d take the path of subdued introspection was dispelled by a first movement cadenza that sounded as wild and spontaneous as Beethoven’s own improvisations must surely have been. The soloist as Prospero: when immersed in the music, Lewis is even starting to look slightly like Beethoven.

It’s a shame that he couldn’t, as originally planned, play Beethoven’s First Concerto too. But then we wouldn’t have heard Leeds winner Anna Tsybuleva give a performance of such captivating freshness and beauty: a near-perfect balance of strutting exuberance and quiet poetry, all framed within the bold, majestic outlines laid down by Hull and his orchestra.

I’m tempted to say that in their different ways these were two of the finest Beethoven concerto performances I’ve ever heard. “Incredible” muttered the gentleman sitting behind me, as Lewis took his bow. It was only as he walked away that I realised he was Alfred Brendel.

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