It’s July; warm and sunny days finally seem to have arrived and with them the start of one of the high points of my musical year, a wonderful three weeks of exciting performances in the rather special and intimate hall at The Old School in Hadleigh, Suffolk, the delightfully friendly East Anglian International Summer Music Festival. This is the brainchild of Thomas McIntosh, an international concert pianist and conductor who studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, and his wife Miranda Reckitt, senior partner in Kerseys Solicitors, Ipswich.

Once again Tom McIntosh was not a man for half measures or faint heart when it came to programming the concerts, and this year turned out to be a positive treasure trove of little performed, and, in some cases, little known, works many of which deserve a much bigger audience and wider airing. Master composers Mozart, Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Haydn were also well represented.

In the opening concert on 9 th July Tom McIntosh was joined by Andrew Phillips, Leader of the London City Chamber Orchestra and Claire Constable, Principal Cello. The two violin sonatas by Busoni and the two Mendelssohn Piano Trios comprised the programme. All four were lovely works and beautifully performed but the highpoint of the evening for me was Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No 2 in C minor, Op.66. This was totally captivating: a brilliant and edgy allegro which was followed by a romantic andante and sparkling scherzo with a very exciting finale. It was excellently performed by this very accomplished trio and anywhere else in the world the final note would have brought a roar of ‘bravo’, which the musicians richly deserved, but enthusiastic and prolonged applause was their lot. A powerful start to this year’s Festival.

The opening Wednesday evening Supper Concert saw Tom McIntosh playing to a packed house. It was an evening of Chopin, opening with the Andante Spianato e Grande Pollonaise Brilliante, Op. 22 followed by the Sonata No.2, B-flat minor Op. 35 which contains the famous Funeral March. After the interval there were Three Mazurkas Op.59, and the evening concluded with the lovely but extremely difficult Sonata No.3, B minor Op.58. Tom was clearly in brilliant form, and it was an enthusiastically received master-class evening on playing Chopin.

The first Saturday morning Kaffee und Kuchen opened with a Nocturne et Saltarello by Georges Enescu and Carl Maria von Weber’s Six Petites Pieces Faciles, Op.3 [J.9-14]. The next composer was little known and deserves some introduction and comment. Victor Fell Yellin (b,1924) was one of Tom McIntosh’s post-graduate tutors at New York University, and over the years they have become great friends. His opera Abaylar has been performed at The Old School, and this year Tom decided that the time had come to introduce more of Yellin’s music and the concert continued with his Sonata for Violoncello and Piano (1981). If you should think ‘1981! That will be discordant, difficult music. No thanks!’, you would be mistaken. This is an absolutely delightful sonata with a very strong and beautiful melodic line and was excellently performed by Claire Constable and very well received by the audience. The morning closed with another piece by Weber, Jubilee Overture E major for Four Hands with Tom McIntosh joined at the piano by Holger Aston, a seasoned Old School performer. This piece was great fun and completed a morning that seemed as much enjoyed by the performers as the audience.

Saturday evening started with Tom McIntosh, piano, joined by Andrew Phillips and Andrew Laing, violins, John Rayson, viola, and Claire Constable, cello playing Busoni’s very enjoyable Concerto for Piano and String Quartet, D minor, Op.17. Seeing, in close proximity, the words ‘Schoenberg’ then ‘Ode’ followed by ‘voice/narrator’ caused me to have significant doubts and reservations about the next piece! The work, Arnold Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon, Op.41 (1942), was written some twenty years after his twelve-tone writing period, and reading this in the programme notes caused me to feel more relaxed. Byron wrote the ode, originally written as a poetic character assassination of Napoleon, and Schoenberg set it to music as a similar attack on Hitler. This was a stunning piece. The narrator’s voice is used to great effect as an extra instrument by the composer, and Peter Grevatt, baritone, was excellent in this role and clearly enjoyed it. Tom McIntosh conducted to great effect and with obvious relish. The audience was absolutely engrossed and fascinated, for, although the music was complex and undoubtedly difficult to play, the concentration and evident enjoyment of the musicians produced a very seductive and absolutely enthralling performance. This was definitely one of those spellbinding ‘Old School moments’ to be savoured and treasured. The elegant and romantic Piano Quintet in A major, Op.81, by Dvorak concluded the evening. The ‘buzz’ in the Hall during supper was palpable, as audience and performers alike shared their delight and enjoyment at the evening’s outstanding performances.

The second Supper Concert was performed, in various combinations by the London City Chamber Orchestra Ensemble and began with Haydn’s Piano Trio in G major No.38, Gypsy Rondo; great fun with delightful rhythms and melodies. The rest of the evening was devoted to two composers, one very well known and the other much less so. Andrew Laing played with very obvious enjoyment four of Fritz Kreisler’s beloved violin pieces, Liebesfreud, Liebesleid, Caprice Viennoise and Schon Rosmarin. The rest of the evening provided a rare and welcome chance to hear four pieces by the much-neglected English composer Alan Rawsthorne. The first piece was his Piano Sonatina (1949) elegantly performed by Tom McIntosh. Rawsthorne is an ‘intimate’ composer who draws you in and this became very evident in his Violin Sonata (1958) which was great fun; very rhythmic with a third movement in which the violin part became mysterious, almost mystical and compelling; so much so that at the end of the movement the audience broke out into sustained and enthusiastic applause which so surprised, delighted and confused Andrew that he bowed and led Tom out of the Hall. They returned within a very few moments, and Andrew announced that they would be delighted to play an encore which was, in fact, the fourth movement! Claire Constable then joined Tom to play Rawsthorne’s Cello Sonata (1949), a sombre piece with lovely melodies beautifully realized. Rawsthorne’s superb Piano Trio (1962), with a delightful capriccio and totally captivating final movement concluded the evening which had provided a wonderful opportunity to hear Rawsthorne’s music at length and thereby get an understanding of his style.

The second Saturday morning concert started with Weber’s 7 Variations for Clarinet and Piano on a theme from Silvana in B-flat major, Op.33 with Jane Phillips, clarinet. This was just sheer pleasure, and absolute fun for the ear with some very difficult playing passages that she sailed through with supreme ease and confidence. There followed a series of poems by Sara Teasdale entitled Dark of the Moon, set to music by Victor Fell Yellin as a homage to his late wife, sung by the Czech mezzo-soprano Edita Randova. This was melodic, accessible, well-performed and very enthusiastically received. Tom McIntosh and Holger Aston finished with a very polished performance of Antheil’s Four-hand Piano Suite (1922), followed by two Four-hand Dances and the Dance Cubane by Gottschalk, which were very popular with the audience.

The evening saw the annual appearance of the London City Chamber Orchestra, under guest conductor Wolfgang Wappler from Eisenach, Germany, and started with Yellin’s Passacaglia for Strings (1952), a short piece with a sombre beginning, building layer upon layer of sound culminating in a dramatic and moving aural edifice. Janacek’s Concertino for Piano and Chamber Ensemble (1925) followed. Opening with a ‘conversation’ between the piano and horn, followed by a duet between the piano and clarinet, the third movement employs the whole orchestra and develops into a foot-tapping, very jolly and upbeat piece. Edita Randova next sang three arias from Carmen; Gypsy Song, Habanera and Seguidilla. Tom McIntosh, then unveiled a new talent as a composer. His frequent professional visits to Japan prompted him to compose Variations on Seven Japanese Folk Songs for Piano and Orchestra, and Eri Higashide from Japan played the piano part in the British premier of this delightful work. The Japanese roots were quite clear but threaded through with a restrained but definite European sound. The audience clearly enjoyed this new facet of Tom’s ability – more please! The evening finished with an excellent performance of the ever popular Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K525, by Mozart. Conductor Wappler made a great impression and obtained a good and tightly controlled sound from the orchestra.

The final Wednesday Supper Concert featured Judith Buckle, mezzo-soprano, a great favourite with the Old School audience, and Peter Grevatt, baritone, in ‘Homage to Nelson’. This was a delightful, fun evening of songs and readings of the time to mark the 200 th anniversary of Nelson’s death. There was not a spare seat, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment on offer.

The last Saturday morning concert was outstanding. It started with Wolfgang Hammar, from Germany, violin, and Holger Aston, piano, playing Mozart’s Sonata for Violin and Piano KV378 (317d) in B major; a lovely work and well played. Yellin’s Sonatina for Violin and Piano followed. This was a wonderful piece, which has two vivacious, ear-catching outside movements but the middle movement is a dirge played by solo violin, written on the news of the executions of the Rosenbergs during the cold war. Poignant and moving, it reflected very well the deep sadness and despair clearly felt by Mr. Yellin at this depressing point in America’s history. It certainly made a very profound impression on me. Finally, Andrew Laing, violin, and Holger Aston, piano, performed George Enescu’s Violin Sonata No.3, A minor, Op.25. This is very much based on gypsy music and displays typical cadences and rhythms. It is extremely difficult to play and is a wonderful exposition of just about every bowing technique there is. It was brilliantly performed, and the audience were totally involved and captivated by it.

The Festival’s final Saturday evening concert featured the Eisenach Players, Wolfgang Hammar, violin, Roxana Mereutza, cello, and Thomas McIntosh, piano. It opened with the well-known Beethoven Piano Trio in D major, Op.70, No.1 Ghost excellently performed by this accomplished trio. There followed Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Piano Trio, D major, Op. 1, a lyrical and expansive work with big sweeps and chords on the piano foreshadowing the film music that was eventually to follow. Extraordinary when you consider that the piece was written when he was 12 years old. Finally, Beethoven’s Piano Trio B-flat Op. 97, Archduke, a big work, beautifully played and a fitting end to the Festival.

I set out to comment on my high points of the Festival but, on referring to my programme jottings, it turned out to be an impossible task – there was just so much that was memorable in this 27 th Festival that it will undoubtedly be remembered as a truly outstanding vintage year!