By Peter Reynolds

Back in 1983, composer Adrian Williams founded the Presteigne Festival; now, in celebration of his sixtieth birthday, he’s back at this year’s festival as a featured composer. His hour-long piece, Ways of Going, for baritone, oboe and string quartet, sets the poetry of Alun Lewis, the Anglo-Welsh poet killed in the Second World War. It formed a whole concert heard in the light-filled medieval church of St Stephen’s in Old Radnor last Sunday afternoon.

The words evoke soldiers’ anticipation of battle, the poet’s memories of his boyhood in rural west Wales and his expectation of the fatherhood he was never to know. Williams’s music is deeply felt, rich in evocative colour and didn’t hold back its emotional punch, its transient quality underlined by the golden late summer weather outside. Baritone Damien Thantrey sang the taxing vocal part with fierce commitment and the same qualities marked the playing of the Carducci String Quartet (perhaps now Britain’s leading younger string quartet) and oboist Emily Pailthorpe.

After the concert was over the audience made a dash for the intimate church of St Michael’s in Discoed for a recital of solo cello music by Alice Neary. It scarcely seems possible that one instrument can produce the myriad colours of the opening piece, Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher by the French composer Henri Dutilleux. John Hawkins’s Stranger, Lover, Dancer, by comparison, reached out to the audience in its direct emotionally charged music and Latin-inspired finale – a wonderful work.

Neary is a superbly versatile performer, able to adapt the rich warmth of her playing to a wide variety of music and was equally at home in the spiky invention of Robert Saxton’s Sonata on a Theme of Sir William Walton – both Hawkins and Saxton were in the audience. But she came into her own in the afternoon’s final piece, Bach’s Second Suite: music that, in its perfect balance of invention, intellectual control and deep spirituality, transcends the commonplace as no other.