It’s only when you come to something like the Two Moors Festival that you appreciate how precious an experience live music is to people who don’t get enough of it.
Two Moors plants serious concerts in remote locations, usually churches, across Dartmoor, Exmoor and the countryside between. And people flock to them, with a commitment you don’t find in cities where a concert is an everyday event. It’s heartening. It’s touching. And the other week it brought the pianist Barry Douglas and the Endellion String Quartet to Dulverton, an Exmoor village where the parish church was full to overflowing (as I fear it wouldn’t be at any other time) for two enthusiastically received performances.
Douglas got famous in the 1980s after winning the Tchaikovsky Competition, an achievement generally reserved for Russians of impactful (ie heavy-hitting) virtuosity. He had the necessary impact and still does, taking no prisoners in “war horse” repertoire: the big Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov concertos.
But that isn’t always what you want in chamber music or recitals; and at Dulverton the lack of prisoners was worrying. The festival’s own Bösendorfer grand – a softer-sounding piano than your normal Steinway – took a hammering throughout his solo programme.
And with the Endellion the next day, playing Brahms’s 1st Piano Quartet, he mopped up the thin tone of the strings in a prosaic, matter-of-fact way that wasn’t comfortable – though ultimately Douglas’s experience and command won through. He knows his business. That he does it with so little fuss is disconcerting but impressive.
For fuss-free playing, though, I’d give my prize to the Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet. In one of Two Moors’s odder ventures, this young group gave a remarkably assured small concert at Tiverton Parkway station, unperturbed by passing trains, platform announcements and a constant flow of human traffic.
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