The Vale of Glamorgan Festival has been running for five decades. In a little preview concert, we had a taster of things to come, thanks to Huw Watkins on piano, David Adams on violin and Matthew Hunt on clarinet.
Watkins is well-known as a fine pianist and his music is also well-regarded. His piece Dream has an opening filled with a subtle, inspired nature. It’s soft pedal work on piano and gentleness from violin and clarinet is centrally one of his most rousing passages he has composed. The piece turns into a little bit of nightmare and has some fleeting moments of drama, though it’s the opening which stays with you, only to haunt the ending of the work, as well.
Fragments from a Diary by Michael Zev Gorgon followed and made for another stimulating encounter. These short fragments are so brief that they might be over in a breath. There is a fine mood here, Kurtág inspiring elements within. The section for solo piano has a fluttery, charming persona that was hard not to resist, Watkins being on top form, whilst playing. I found this an enticing piece, something I would return to.
Watkins would spoil us with two piano solos next, John Luther Adams and his Nunataks – Solitary Pieces. This is one of Luther Adams’ typical evocations of nature through a dense, yet gentle perspective; Nunataks being a peak or rock high above the ice below it. Watkins is very busy here, busting out numerous progressive chords, as the piece works well in its own weird way. The opportunity to hear Luther Adams work at the festival in May is a must for any open-minded music goers.
Harp of the North by Helen Grime is inspired by the poem of Sir Walter Scott, bringing to mind vivid Scottish landscapes, a fine companion to the previous music. It has some Ives-like material and moments of uneasy structures. I found myself unsure of the piece, as it seemed to amount to being a short endeavour of endurance for player and listener. Watkins’ own Speak Seven Seas brought back Adams (now on viola) and Hunt for a watery few minutes, both inspired in their craft. Some pleasant ideas here, though I find Watkins and his leaning toward more conventional music a bore and love it when he tries out more work out of left field. Though his career continues to rise either way.
The festival should prove to be fascinating, as it is annually.
The next afternoon concert at St David’s Hall is jazz pianist Dale Storr on 19th November 2019.
The Vale of Glamorgan Festival opens 15th May 2020 and continues till 22nd May 2020.