Review: Highgate International Chamber Music Festival

John Suchet

John Suchet - Credit: Archant

The superb acoustic of St Michael’s Church saw a programme of Beethoven and Tchaicovsky performed by two of the festival founders with clarity and energy

Natalie Klouda, Ashok Klouda and Irina Botan.

Natalie Klouda, Ashok Klouda and Irina Botan. - Credit: Archant

This is the eighth season of the Highgate International Chamber Music Festival and, as suggested in last year's review, the Festival just keeps growing.

But it's not all about size - the ambitions of the organisers keep expanding too.

Nineteen composers are featured in this year's programme, spread across two Highgate, churches and featuring early, main and candlelit concerts.

The only theme is to be the first to mark Beethoven's 250th anniversary next year, so the programmes are shot through with works by the German master.

Two of his pieces opened Thursday's main concert in the gorgeous St Michael's church.

It is the perfect venue for this type of event: it can easily accommodate more than 200, lends itself to hospitality and has a superb acoustic.

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Despite the cold, wind and rain, it was almost a sell out crowd to hear the Piano Trio in C minor is labelled Op.1 No 3.

As broadcaster John Suchet helpfully explained in his introduction from the stage, it was one of Beethoven's very early pieces and, even at the age of 23 he was producing beautiful music but also creating innovations and establishing traits that would mark out his work.

The piano was played by Irina Botan one of the festival organisers. Her mesmerising finger work did full justice to the piece's startling explosive vehemence and dark lyric beauty.

Her fellow festival founder Ashok Klouda played the cello in the next piece - the String Quartet in F Minor (Quartetto Serioso) - a much later work that reflects Beethoven's deteriorating health, deafness and relationship failures.

It was never intended for public performance but the energy and brilliance these young players brought to the performance justified the breach of confidence.

After some excellent mulled wine, the final work was by Tchaikovsky: String Sextet in D minor (Souvenir de Florence).

The excellent programme notes observed that he felt "terrible about how thrilled I am with my own work...".

Pyotr would have loved this performance for its transparency, clarity and sense of pure fun.