There was a brilliant structure to this year’s Arcadia music festival, already the third to be held in the enchanted Welsh Marches borderland beyond Ludlow, between Bromfield and Leintwardine.
A hand-picked bunch of world-class instrumentalists assembled by artistic directors Thomas Bowes and Eleanor Alberga presented two chamber music programmes featuring string quartets, pieces for smaller groups, and two quintets for horn and strings.
One of these horn quintets was Arcadia’s first world premiere, Alberga’s Shining Gate of Morpheus, the second in an ongoing set of chamber music Nocturnes, and one casting a magical spell as dreams teeter on the edge of wakefulness.
Warm and rich in its tonalities and harmonies, this 14-minute piece is adroitly scored, the horn writing (Vicki Eisen the accomplished soloist) unobtrusively effective whether assimilated into the ensemble or conversing with the grouped strings.
The mini-episodes constitute almost a micro-symphony as the sections progress, arriving at an impassioned climax where the first violin (Joseph Swensen here, presiding overall with a conductor’s instinct) has a powerfully extended melody before the eventual subsiding onto a comforting major triad as sleep returns.
This was preceded in the gracious Church of St Giles, Downton-on-the-Rock by Mozart’s subtle and supple Duo for Violin and Viola in G major, Bowes combining with violist Marius Ungureanu in a seamlessly co-ordinated account.
The previous evening, in the remarkably true acoustic of Leintwardine’s St Mary Magdalene Church (and bless the soul who thought of providing blankets against the cold), the Duo had been Kodaly’s for Violin and Cello, with Bowes joined by the enthusiastic and supremely musicianly Caroline Dale.
Both events, gracious in their provision of pre-concert discussions and wine, drew packed and enthusiastic audiences.