The Tithe Barn at Syde Manor, nestling deep in the Cotswolds between Birdlip Hill and Cirencester, is a gem of a venue. It's comfortable, airy, and has a fabulous acoustic. The only trouble is, you have to find it.
But having negotiated a seemingly interminable, sign-less single-track road, the rewards last weekend were more than ample, this year's Cheltenham Music Festival pre-launching itself in style with a brave traverse through all 15 of Shostakovich's string quartets played with engaging enthusiasm, emotional commitment, and awesome physical stamina by the charming and immensely gifted Carducci Quartet.
These young people perform with an empathy which is truly awesome (eye-contact is rarely needed), and with a skill which makes light of the huge technical demands Shostakovich imposes upon his players, whether in taking them up to the stratospheres, or digging through repeated note-patterns, or creating the quasi-orchestral textures set up by hugely taxing multiple-stopping over varied note-values.
Their odyssey was a triumph, and such a concentrated trawl brought an awareness of both the consistency and variety of Shostakovich's language, as well as the references to his output in other formats. We sympathised with his political perils during the Stalinist regime, we grasped his gradual influencing by Jewish music, and all the time we admired the strength of his indomitable character, sardonic, witty and despairing, all conveyed by the remarkable Carduccis.
Stephen Johnson's deeply-informed, passionate introductions were a bonus, and the catering was top-class and well-organised. But in future can we have more than one loo between 70 people made available? And reassuring road-signs, please?