Forget Olympic gold – in its way this Church Stretton Arts Festival final was just as exciting as any of the sporty stuff currently dominating our waking hours.
It certainly began and ended in barnstorming fashion, with Brahms’s F-A-E Scherzo an attention-grabbing opener bristling with gypsy energy and vibrant tone; and Szymanowski’s Tarantella provided a thrilling finisher that swept along in an almost hysterical whirlwind of sound and pounding rhythms.
Enjoyable as these two showstoppers were, the main items on either side of the interval were much more rewarding. Tasmin Little has championed Delius’s music for many years, so the inclusion of his early Sonata in B minor was of particular interest.
Although not a great work – it indulges in too much youthful posturing (the last few bars of the opening Allegro are pure corn-flavoured rhetoric) and overuses some of his turns of phrase – there is a definite charm in its artlessness and heart-on-sleeve directness. Little succumbed without shame to the sentimentality of the plantation-song Andante, and in the finale matched Martin Roscoe’s ebullient handling of the showy piano part with soaring melodic thrusts and judicious use of portamento.
The contrast between this apprentice composition and César Franck’s Sonata in A major could not have been greater. Here it was Roscoe who grabbed the attention, not only for his impeccably controlled account of the fiendishly difficult (ask any student pianist) second movement, but also for the sensitivity of his support throughout.
Little, too, explored a wide-ranging tonal palette, tenderly reflective, even subdued in the first movement, yet rich and burnished in the sul G phrases of the second, and bringing to the finale a wonderfully shaped sense of growth and life-affirming celebration. Marvellous.