Cerne Abbas is a pretty village nestled in “Thomas Hardy country” north of Dorchester (Hardy’s Casterbridge). It’s famous for its “rude giant”, carved into the side of a hill above the village, whose origins are unknown, and for the last 29 years, the village has been host to an annual music festival, founded and organised by the Gaudier Ensemble.
The festival was established in Cerne Abbas to provide musicians with an attractive place to perform and an opportunity for them to come together to play the music they wanted to play to the highest artistic standards. The festival has also forged important links with the local community and has created stimulation and inspiration for schoolchildren and young musicians. A generous programme of concerts is combined with open rehearsals and masterclasses for promising young musicians, and leading students from the Royal Academy regularly join the Gaudier Ensemble to perform in some of the concerts. The church of St Mary’s is an excellent venue for the concerts, with its fine acoustic and picturesque location.
I knew about the Cerne Abbas Music Festival from the pianist Susan Tomes (whom I’ve interviewed and subsequently met) who plays with the Gaudier Ensemble, but missed the festival last year due to my house move. This year, I was determined to attend; Cerne Abbas is a 45-minute drive from Portland through some of the most charming countryside, and my father’s visit was a good opportunity to enjoy a Sunday lunchtime recital of one our favourite works – Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet.
The opening piece, a quartet by François Devienne for strings and bassoon, was unknown to us but with its idioms and character so redolent of Haydn and Mozart, it felt familiar, and the performance was witty and colourful – what I call “friendly music” which puts everyone in a good mood and receptive for the rest of the concert.
Schubert’s Trout was infused with a warm intimacy, the piano ringing out like a carillon, high-spirited and lively but never dominating, the strings carefree and lyrical. Relaxed and genial, it felt irresistibly spontaneous, with its transparent textures and infectious, memorable melodies. The perfect music for a warm, sunny day in Dorset.
This was a most enjoyable and committed performance, the audience attentive and enthusiastic, and proof once again that fine music making exits and thrives outside of the capital. Next year Cerne Abbas Music Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary: the dates are already in my diary.