Chamber music at St. Thomas’, Ryde, Isle of Wight

29 Jun

The Ryde Arts Festival is an annual showcase of local artistic talent on the Isle of Wight and one of this year’s events was an evening of chamber music at the St. Thomas’ Church in the centre of Ryde. The building has a good acoustic quality and is a beautiful space for the performance of music.

Should anyone doubt the existence of enjoyable, harmonious and intellectually satisfying modern chamber music, last night’s concert would be an eye-opener. Four Island composers were in evidence (and in person), producing highly original works.

Some 50 souls of all ages settled into their seats, having passed an impressive display on their way in of bread, cheese and wine spread on a table at the back of the hall. Their purpose went beyond mere refreshment however, as the programme soon revealed.

First on the programme was a gorgeous string quartet set of pieces under the title ‘Highland Malts’ composed by the highly talented Richard Benger. I have heard Richard play organ in an Island church and have sung, with the Ryde Chorus, a truly beautiful carol written by him. His prowess in composing for strings is no less impressive. The conceit was to portray the varying characteristics of malt whiskies. The “soft and fragrant” Glenmorangie, the “full-bodied, immensely self-confident” Glenlivet being two of the five.

What stood out for me in ‘Highland Malts’ as well as the other string quartet pieces (of which more below) was the high degree of professionalism and accomplishment among the players. James Humhpries and Claire Hudson on violin, Sarah Mitchell on viola and Philip Grainger on Cello were well-practiced, expressive and harmonious, and did justice to Benger’s fine writing.

Next up were two charming, lively and inventive pieces for woodwind quintet, written by A level students from Cowes. ‘Fulvetta’ and ‘En Chasse’ were both inspired by the ornithology of the forest and were most impressive in their creative use of the sounds of the different instruments. Whoever is teaching music at Cowes is doing a darn fine job, bringing out latent talent that must exist everywhere but sadly goes untapped. What a thrill to hear this thoroughly interesting original and mature music emanating from the artistic minds of youth.

The final piece was again for string quartet and was titled ‘The Cheeseboard’, by Cyrus Dean. An interesting concept woven with considerable skill by Dean into 10 short pieces portraying-you guessed it-the experiences of eating different cheeses. They weren’t all to my personal taste, being for me difficult to get into, though the lively dance rhythm accompanying ‘Cabrales’ – “A strong, spicy cheese with some tang from the north of Spain” was really attractive. I did keep thinking “I’ll probably appreciate this more on a second hearing”.

And so it was to bread, cheese and wine, with a chance to meet fellow music lovers, the composers and performers. In all, a thoroughly enjoyable evening, making one feel proud to be a resident on this wonderful Island which has been an inspiration to some of the very finest 19th century figures in the arts, including Tennyson, Dickens, Keats and a host of others. On this showing, inspiration continues to flow in abundance.



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