Arts, Architecture & Design

La Belle Époque: Roman River Music Summer Weekend 2017


People often suppose that living just 45 miles from London is a blessing: “all that culture and entertainment you have access to…”

Actually, it has significant downsides – and not just in property prices. My sense is that huge cities suck the life out of their hinterlands. The combination of the commuting life and socio-economic mass of such places leaves little that is viable for perhaps forty or fifty miles around. And while it is true that London does offer a cornucopia, rushing out of a concert in order to catch the ‘Vomit Comet’ last train back to the sticks rather takes the edge off the evening, even before we consider the total outlay.

So it is excellent that the Roman River Music Festival is going from strength to strength in our area. It was started by a group of musicians in 2000 and is gaining in profile each year, last year even attracting the presence of Nicola Benedetti. Essex is not exactly renowned for its high culture, so it is extremely gratifying to see this being put right, supported by  Arts Council England and the National Lottery fund.

While the core of the festival programme is classical, a wide range of genres is included, and some unusual venues adopted, all under the artistic direction of Orlando Jopling.

Thus it was a delight to be able to walk to a concert in under five minutes, held as part of the RRF’s Summer Weekend of Belle Époque French music in the church of St. Peter ad Vincula, Coggeshall.

The Navarra Quartet were joined by pianist Tom Poster, soprano Raphaela Papadakis and Americans Elena Urioste (violin) and Karim Sulayman (tenor) for works by Ravel, Chausson and Fauré. That is was top-quality music was born out by the presence of BBC Radio 3, which has recorded the entire sequence of concerts for broadcast.

The programme began with a familiar piece Pavanne pour une infant défunte, though performed for solo piano rather than the more usual orchestra. It was followed by Chausson’s Chanson Perpetuelle, La Bonne Chanson eight-song cycle by Fauré and finished with Ravel’s Piano Trio. It is not the easiest of music to listen to and while I do appreciate French music of that period, I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough to provide an artistic review. However, it was clear that the performers were highly accomplished as the sparks flew in the second Ravel piece in particular.

A nice touch was the short encore, recognising the early beginnings of jazz in the era, as the ensemble played a lovely arrangement of Henry Mancini’s Moon River. The previous evening had had Gershwin.

The church has a fine acoustic, as I know from experience – and a large East Anglian ‘wool church’ presents an airy setting for summer music.

All in all an excellent antidote to the haul into London for top-quality classical music, and worthy of widespread support. This year’s main festival runs from 14th September to 1st October.

The weekend’s concerts will be broadcast this week as Radio 3’s Lunchtime Concert at 1.00pm from this Tuesday. The concert mentioned above will be broadcast on Thursday.

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