NORTH YORKSHIRE is rich in historic locations, and the 17-day Ryedale Festival can match its magnificent music offering to concert venues that range from Castle Howard and Ampleforth Abbey to the tiniest of moorland churches, St Gregory’s Minster at Kirkdale.
Anna Lapwood is one of the Festival’s artists-in-residence, and the choice of St Mary’s, Lastingham, for “The Echo of Angels”, an afternoon concert of organ and plainsong, roundly vindicates the church’s decision, a decade ago, to restore and enlarge a Peter Conacher organ for worship, concerts and recitals, and the support and encouragement of organists.
There is a rounded apse of softly washed stone here. Half of Lapwood’s Pembroke College Chapel Choir followed the line of its curved walls, while the rest were positioned behind the audience and in the north aisle. It was surround sound, attention drawn wholly to the music and not the individual performers. Lapwood was invisible to the bulk of the audience, too; so the outpouring of sound was celestial.
The chant, Magnificat Primi Toni, was the prelude to Bach’s Fuga Sopra il Magnificat. Then Attende Domine flowed into Sarah MacDonald’s and Jeanne Demessieux’s compositions on that theme, before Dobrinka Tabakova’s Orbis Factor — sustained thoughtfulness before the joyous outpouring of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A Minor.
The Bach was so glorious that I imagined the sound breaking out of the building and being swept over the moors. There followed Amy Summers’s beautiful O Lux Beata Trinitas; Frescobaldi’s Toccata Cromatica per L’Elevazione, and Ligeti’s accompanying Omaggio a Frescobaldi, the tiny, bell-like sound stealing away at the end and holding us in suspension.
It was such a feast that I sometimes lost track of where we’d got to, and just gave myself up to the sanctity of the voices and versatility of the organ. We reached Kyrie Cum Jubilo (Roxanna Panufnik) before the slow descent into the Norman crypt of the soprano singing Ghislaine Reece-Trapp’s In Paradisum: an ethereal moment among many.
The finale, Star Fantasy (Kristina Arakelyan), was a lovely, tumbling thing. It felt like a ship heading with abandonment into stormy waters: a rousing end indeed.
The Ryedale Festival continues until Sunday. www.ryedalefestival.com