Now I know the Presteigne Festival really has arrived. Someone was touting tickets outside St Andrew's Church, Trent Bridge-style, before Monday afternoon's glittering recital.
And the event really was something rather special even by Presteigne's terms. Two important local poets had combined with two of the country's most approachable and rewarding composers to provide premieres of significant new vocal works.
Both had grown from A Garland for Presteigne, a project of two years ago celebrating what was then the 21st birthday of this vibrant enterprise where ten composers associated with the festival each wrote one short song celebrating the Welsh border country.
John McCabe and Cecilia McDowall were two of these, and each now had expanded their contributions into fully-fledged song-cycles.
McCabe's Gladestry Quatrains, setting 11 poems by Jo Shapcott, sometimes Housmanesque in the way they combine spiritual and topographical landscapes, had a strong sense of pictorial communication.
Piano accompaniments were vivid in their imagery (and deftly shaped by Paul Plummer), vocal lines, occasionally highfloating, pointed the gentle irony of Shapcott's verses, and there was a satisfying sense of completeness in the way McCabe shaped his structures.
In a neat symmetry, McDowall's Radnor Songs set six poems by Simon Mundy, Shapcott's husband. Interestingly, in their poems both Shapcott and Mundy refer to favourite local pubs - different ones!
McDowall's vocal writing here exploits proud, almost Brittenesque open intervals, swooping and soaring in the opening The Buzzard and creating a wonderful sense of space in the concluding Radnor (Old), Church and Harp. Elsewhere she brings Tippettian dancing trills to Summergill, and a subliminal quotation of the Marseillaise in Mundy's punning Four.
The poems were read by their respective authors before soprano Rachel Nicholls, one of the most exciting and versatile voices on the current scene, gave intelligent, persuasive performances of the songs.
Virus-affected tonsils may have been the reason for a certain thickness of enunciation, but this remarkable young lady nevertheless sang with the power and projection I have always admired on the several occasions I have been lucky enough to hear her.
Nicholls was also the soloist in a further off-shoot derived from the Garland project, David Matthews' orchestral song-cycle Movement of Autumn, settings of five poems by Vernon Watkins premiered during Tuesday night's Festival Finale.
Matthews reveals his customary warmth of personality in this rich and rewarding 25-minute work. Scoring for an economical chamber orchestra is amazingly resourceful, sometimes having recourse to multidivisions in the strings ( fearlessly encompassed by the splendid young Presteigne Festival Orchestra under George Vass), and always sounding well-nourished and immediately communicative.
Watkins' texts of the changing of the seasons seem particularly apposite to Presteigne in late August. They draw from Matthews busy pastoral textures, lush Straussian sounds, rippling woodwind phrases and, hearteningly, unashamed recourse to well-characterised key-feeling, one example being the ending in a peaceful A major.
Somehow this hugely attractive piece seems to stand alongside Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne. Nicholls, so grippingly generous here, would surely be equally so in those lovely gems.