By John Rushby-Smith

Thanks to the tireless dedication of its director Peter Smith and his devoted supporting cast, the Autumn in Malvern Festival continues to serve up intriguing artistic events of very high quality, such as Sofya Gulyak’s stunning piano recital at Hellens, Stephen Cleobury’s organ recital ‘The Silver Chain of Sound’ in The Priory (with an interlude of The Lark Ascending affectingly played by the young Julia Hwang with Charles Matthews), and Peter Sutton’s intriguing dramatised presentation of the life of local medieval poet William Langland at Little Malvern Priory.

Outstanding among the events was Peter Smith’s cleverly devised sequence of choral and instrumental music presented in the Great Hall of Malvern College. Entitled ‘Memories of the Malvern Festival 1929-1939’ it featured the excellent Aldwyn Voices, expertly directed by Allan Walker, who delivered highly polished performances of a capella works by assorted English composers from Byrd and Taverner to Stanford and Harris. In between Shulah Oliver treated the audience to some marvellously expressive playing – on viola and violin as required – of well-known salon pieces by Elgar and Vaughan Williams.

She was accompanied with beautifully judged warmth by Louise Vale, who revealed a fluency at the keyboard that matched her more familiar prowess as a violinist. Interspersed between the musical numbers, Peter Sutton read fascinating contemporary accounts of the original festival’s foundation by Sir Barry Jackson, who was encouraged by the decade’s great and good, including George Bernard Shaw, Allardyce Nicholl and Elgar himself.

Related talks and exhibitions took place throughout the festival, whose concluding musical event ‘An English Idyll’ was given by the London Concertante string ensemble and included the Six Variations on Sellenger’s Round, with Oldham, Tippett, Berkeley, Britten, Searle and Walton contributing one each, and some gorgeous music by Ireland, Finzi and Holst.