The Haydn Festival at Bridgnorth

For lovers of Haydn like myself the annual festival at Bridgnorth in Shropshire would seem to be a must. Performances in an attractive town of a range of his works, revealing what a brilliant composer he was, innovative, inventive and witty, but also powerful and, at times, breathtakingly beautiful. And the continuing neglect of his, particularly symphonic, works (unless they have a nickname) is somewhat of a scandal. My only previous visit to the festival had been in 1997. Although it is to my shame that I have not been more often, the organisers have not done a good job in marketing it. Another Haydn enthusiast sitting next to me at one of the concerts lives in Birmingham but had only got to hear of the Bridgnorth event when she was visiting the “other” Haydn festival in Eisenstadt near Vienna. And the method of dealing with tickets must surely be ¬†brought into the 21st century. When we arrived in the town seeking to attend a morning concert, there was no shop or office – not even the Tourist Information Bureau – selling tickets, and we had to ring, and leave a message, on someone’s mobile.

The cosy, homely character of the festival does¬† have it positive aspects. Almost everyone you meet in concerts or in the marquee wants to talk to you. But I hope I am not alone in thinking that the quality of music-making in Bridgnorth merits for it greater prominence, such as for example an occasional broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Under the direction of Anthony Halstead, the two evening concerts I attended provided not only outstanding performances of three of Haydn’s lesser known later symphonies, but also some unusual concertos. That by Stamitz for cello, apparently receiving its first performance in modern times, was never less than intriguing and required, and received, virtuoso playing from soloist Pavel Serbin. And alongside Haydn’s keyboard concerto in G, featuring a fortepiano, we had Beethoven’s more familiar 2nd piano concerto played on the same instrument which because of the texture and dynamics of the sound provided a very different auditory experience to that we are used to. A morning concert of string quartets, given by leaders of the string section of the orchestra was admittedly not of the same high quality; I suspect, because the players simply had too many performance duties and did not have enough time to rehearse the pieces properly. But overall this was an excellent musical outing which should be made available to a wider public.