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Oxford Lieder Festival - Tales of Beyond: Magic, Myths and Mortals

The 18th Oxford Lieder Festival explores life, death, and the mysterious areas between and beyond.
Oxford City Centre (various venues), Various venues around the City Centre - see individual events for details. OX1 1ET, Fri 11 October - Sat 26 October 2019

A long-established highlight of Oxford's music calendar, the Lieder Festival exists to celebrate song, and welcomes a host of renowned singers and pianists to Oxford each year in a programme of over 50 concerts. This year's theme is 'Tales of Beyond: magic, myths and mortals' and the festival will explore life, death, and the mysterious areas between and beyond. With legends from around the world playing a part, there will be storytelling, a ghost tour, a magic show and more, alongside the concerts, masterclasses and study events over a fortnight of magical music.

October 17, 2019
Glorious Music to the Power of Three

The Ghost Trio: Phoenix Piano Trio, Holywell Music Room, Wednesday 16 October

Life’s been a hard slog recently – dodging showers, perpetually running up and down stairs with damp feet and of course tripping on the pavement outside the Sheldonian and breaking my arm. So it was with great pleasure that I strolled through the glories of Cotswold stone, warmed by autumn evening sunshine, to the joys of the Oxford Lieder Festival. Where else can you lighten the load, forget your cares and unwind in a beautiful venue, with a great trio playing Beethoven on a theme of magic, myths and mortals?

It is always a pleasure attending concerts at the Holywell Music Room – the simple and elegant Palladian lines evoke a relaxed calm, ideal for chamber music. And what chamber music! From the vivacious stridency of the opening bars of the allegro, Christian Elliott’s cello played subtle, mellifluous mediator between the passion, vivacity and at times flamboyance of Jonathan Stone’s violin, and the roiling and rumbling crescendos and diminuendos of the piano. Here in the repeating melody we can hear future echoes of Beethoven’s much more widely appreciated second symphony. Yet in this piece, there is the same complexity of tone and interplay between the trio of musicians.

Indeed, the accomplishment of the Phoenix Piano Trio really came to the fore in the second slower largo section of the piece – the Ghost. Here Sholto Kynoch’s interpretation of the piano part was more ponderous, sinuous and insidious. The violin was more ethereal and the cello rowed the waves of melancholy. The slower pace of the piece allowed more space for the resonance of notes, and time to appreciate the intricacies of the interplay between instruments and the underlying tone of dejection. For me, no ghosts were evoked but I did lose myself for a time walking the wet black midnight streets of Paris alone.

The concluding presto revisited some of the stronger tones of the opening of the piece whilst exploring a composite of refrains, most notably the sorrowful tones of the piano. By now the players seemed interconnected by melody, completing each other's musical exhortations, with staccato plucked strings punctuating piano rills and melodies. Building to a conclusion the audience clearly enjoyed. No matter the tenuous ethereal link, with no hint of either Hamlet’s father’s ghost or Macbeth’s witches, when you are listening to glorious music to the power of three. Make hay whilst the lieder shines - there are plenty more musical pleasures to be had before this year’s festival ends on 26 October, and if you want to hear more from the Phoenix Trio they are joining Music at Oxford’s celebration of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary in May next year.

October 14, 2019
A world of fantasy

The Oxford Lieder Festival takes place for two weeks each October, and welcomes many of the greatest singers, musicians and teachers from all over the world. The Festival features around 50 concerts, as well as many other learning events throughout the fortnight. The theme of this year’s Lieder Festival is 'Tales of Beyond: Magic, Myths and Mortals'. Its aim is to “take us on a tour of life, death, and the mysterious areas between and beyond.”

The opening night of this much-loved festival was set in the stunning Oxford Town Hall on a rainy Friday evening. It was wonderful to see the main hall full to the brim with eager concert-goers - it was certainly very busy. This particular concert was performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with Jac Van Steen conducting. They were accompanied on stage by the Swedish soprano, Camilla Tilling, and Welsh bass-baritone, Neal Davies.

The show opened with a collection of pieces by Franz Schubert. First up was the instrumental Overture from Rosamunde D. 644 which truly showcased the Orchestra’s talent. They were then joined on stage alternately by the singers. Both Tilling and Davies were exceptional vocalists whose haunting and powerful voices really captured the magical feel of the whole event. Other notable pieces from this section included Der Vollamondstrahlt and Prometheus. All of the vocals were sung in German, which would have been difficult to follow as a non-German speaker. Fortunately, each member of the audience was thoughtfully given a programme complete with translations of all of the lyrics being sung, which made it so much more enjoyable. The lyrics followed the theme brilliantly, and it was clear that these pieces were carefully chosen to complement the world of fantasy.

After a short interval we were welcomed back with Gebetand Ankreons Grab by Hugo Wolf and Jean Sibelius’ Luonnotar, Op. 70. Both were exceptionally performed, and calmed the audience wonderfully to create a great lead-up to the moment we had all been waiting for. The final section was comprised of compositions by Edvard Greig. The music was taken from the play Peer Gynt, and the most notable pieces were the sultry Anitra’s Dance, Morning Mood and Solveigs Vuggesang.

The grand finale In the Hall of the Mountain King was a spectacular end to a fantastic evening of music.The audience were truly captivated and it was definitely light relief for anyone who hadn’t recognised other pieces that night, as it is so familiar in popular culture.

Overall, this made for a very enjoyable evening and was a great introduction to this festival for me. I would highly recommend getting a ticket to some of the events running in the next fortnight, and it looks as though they are selling out quite quickly. All of them are running throughout Oxfordshire and are suitable for both children and adults.

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