It’s not just Olympians coming in with new world records this month. Last year the Presteigne Festival entertained an astonishing 83 per cent average attendance. This year it has played to an amazing 86 per cent of capacity.
Artistic director George Vass must be doing something right.
And one thing where he certainly has the Midas touch is in the engagement of young artists, present in this charming Welsh town not just for one-off concerts but for a whole sequence of events.
Among these is the Kungsbacka Trio, whom I caught on Tuesday afternoon in a brilliantly constructed programme of piano trios by Haydn, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Shostakovich.
Turnage’s A Short Procession; A Fast Stomp began with a patiently-built threnody and ended with a decidedly Stravinskyan ragtime explosion which somewhat outstayed its welcome. That could never be said of Shostakovich’s tragic E minor Trio, bleak even for this tortured composer, and searingly delivered by these passionate young players.
The evening’s festival finale reunited several of the composers who have enriched programmes here in the past, beginning with The Romance of the Rose by festival president Michael Berkeley. An early piece, perhaps more fulsome and filmic than more recent works, it was gloriously rendered by Vass’s Presteigne Festival Orchestra, with outstanding horns.
Vice-president Adrian Williams contributed a new commission: Maelienydd, landscape music at its most communicative, as open-air as anything by Copland, and strongly structured. And the horns again were superb.
Composer-in-residence Joe Duddell heard a gratifying second performance of his Mnemonic, a chamber concerto for flute and harp which would make an ideal foil for Mozart’s famous example. Proudly tonal, Duddell’s piece is perfectly attuned to the character of these instruments, and was affectionately performed by flautist Adam Walker and harpist Sally Pryce.
Gillian Keith brought gentle charisma to her creamy, articulate delivery of the soprano solos in Finzi’s Dies Natalis, Vass drawing from his strings all the piercing wonderment of this visionary score.
And the oldest piece in the programme, Britten’s precocious Sinfonietta, weighty and sonorous in a manner uncharacteristic of his subsequent style, made a satisfying conclusion to what George Vass described as his “happiest festival, delivered by the greatest band in the world.”