Mouriz, Mozart and a happy Pump Room

Jeremy Pound enjoys a sunny occasion at the Cheltenham Music Festival


Concert-going doesn’t get much more feel-good than this. It’s all shirt-sleeves and shades on view as I amble in the morning sun across the large lawn in front of Cheltenham’s Pittville Pump Room. On my way, I spot the clarinettist and composer Mark Simpson sitting crossed legged on the grass, peering happily into his laptop. He’s due to be on stage in an hour-or-so’s time. If he’s remotely nervous about that prospect, it doesn’t show.

First, though, at this Cheltenham Festival lunchtime (well, 11am) concert we are treated to Duparc and Mompou songs followed by Ravel’s Sheherazade from Spanish mezzo Clara Mouriz (right) and pianist Joseph Middleton, who hails from just down the road in Cirencester. The two have played regularly together, clearly get on well, and beam broadly as they take the stage – today’s sunny good mood has got to everybody.

Smiles, too, at the end of their deftly delivered first half. I am surprised that Clara Mouriz, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, has remained relatively below the radar until now. As a singer she has the lot: a richly expressive mezzo voice, power when needed – kept largely under wraps here, but unleashed briefly in the Ravel – and oodles of stage presence. Expect to hear a lot more from her – and, for that matter, from the effortlessly graceful Middleton too.

The interval brings a chance to wander back out into the sun, admire the Pittville lawn again, and, for some of us, the chance to take a quick glance at the Test match score on our mobiles: the Australians have contrived to lose five wickets in the space of an hour. The day just gets better and better.

Back inside for Part II, then, and Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet from the Signum Quartet and Mark Simpson, who has now shut up the laptop – emails read, next level of Angry Birds reached, or whatever – and taken his instrument out of the case instead. It’s a splendidly effervescent performance, graced in particular by Simpson’s ethereal sound in the Larghetto second movement and bustle aplenty from the Signums in the variations of the finale.

Before that, though, we also get a new composition in the form of Marton Illes’s Rajzok IV for string quartet. It’s a dazzlingly complex work, complete with programme notes to match. For instance: ‘Polydimensionality is a concept which has already been utilised by many composers... I work with linear musical strata that differ from each other in the majority of musical parameters, such as pulse, harmony and the calibration of tension.’

Right-ho. It’s the sort of piece that, to be fair, one needs to hear several times to appreciate fully – or at all – but, in all honesty, is unlikely to get many outings beyond the one today. Life’s rotten that way. As it is, I look round the room, and find myself wondering just how many of my fellow concert-goers are really aboard Illes’s polydimensional boat...

Whatever. We all give the composer a hearty clap when he takes his bow, of course. On a day as perfect as this, it would be simply churlish not to.

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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