By Paul Conway

Featuring the Presteigne Festival Orchestra under artistic director George Vass, the concluding event (No 28, no less) of the 2017 Presteigne Festival offered musicianship of the highest calibre at the service of inspiring repertoire.

John Joubert’s 90th birthday year was celebrated by a performance of his 1962 Sinfonietta. The players had the measure of this directly communicative score from the rugged, Sibelian grandeur of its opening to the slow movement’s eloquent wind solos and the jig-like finale’s restorative energy. It is a great pity the composer, a staunch supporter of the festival, was unable to attend due to ill health, but this spirited reading was a warm and worthy tribute.

Composer-in-residence Edward Gregson was represented in the programme by his gripping and ultimately cathartic concerto for cello and chamber orchestra entitled ‘A Song for Chris’ (2007). Soloist Gemma Rosefield’s wonderfully layered and variegated account embraced the score’s many-sided approach to grief and loss, from violent outbursts to hushed acceptance. Hugh Wood’s 85th birthday year was marked by his Beginnings: Three Early Songs for mezzo-soprano and string orchestra, a reworking of songs from 1956. More of a suite than a cycle, these radiant settings are linked by a common atmosphere exploring childhood, mystery and innocence. Rebecca Afonwy-Jones was a sensitive and poetic interpreter of the disparate texts, accompanied by expressive string-playing under George Vass’s crisply authoritative direction.

The official programme finished with a taut and cogent rendering of Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, and the tender Elegy from John Ireland’s A Downland Suite made a delightful encore.

Ending the thirty-fifth Presteigne Festival with distinction, this concert rounded off a series of memorable musical occasions staged in and around Radnorshire’s cultural capital. The sheer love of music radiating from the featured performers elevates this annual event above all others. The 2018 Festival (23-28 August) is already in my diary.