★★★★½ Festivalgoers are in for quite a treat if its prelude is anything to go by.

Prelude to the Huntington Estate Music Festival 2015, Mudgee, NSW
November 21-22, 2015

The opening two concerts for this year’s music festival at the Huntington Estate in Mudgee, NSW, augured well for the remaining concerts. Both concerts offered artists who were new to the festival as well as others who were familiar to the audience. The presence of the Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair was especially welcome at this time when lieder recitals are rarely heard in Australia. At the first concert, he sang a group of Schubert songs; at the second, a group by Hugo Wolf. In a relatively quiet song such as Schubert’s Der Einsame, Holzmair’s singing was well-nigh perfect; in more dramatic songs, such as Schuberts Prometheus, Holzmair, like many other lieder singers today, sang much too loudly.

The Orava Quartet, composed of young guns who all seemed under thirty, gave an excellent performance on the opening night of Shostakovich’s Quartet No 6. This work, which dates from 1956, is a complex and serious composition without any of the seemingly trivial characteristics of much of this composer’s music. The Orava Quartet was equal to all the demands of the music, technically and dramatically. At Sunday’s concert, they gave an equally impressive account of Mozart’s Quintet in G Minor, K516 with the French violist Lise Berthaud. Berthaud also appeared in the first concert with the Australian pianist Amir Farid in two works by the French composer Guillaume Connesson (born 1970). In both these works, the composer sought to express “the almost mystical calm and some of the wonder that comes when looking up at the magical twinkly sky” at night. Both compositions were enjoyable and were greeted with enthusiasm by the audience.

The Goldner Quartet is, of course, well known to audiences at the festival and their performance of Tchaikovsky’s Quartet No 1 added further lustre to their reputation.  Tchaikovsky’s quartets are not usually considered to be amongst his most important creations, but on this occasion the Goldners made it sound more impressive and substantial than I had ever imagined it to be. Their performance of the famous Andante Cantabile was especially enjoyable. One of the members of the quartet, the cellist Julian Smiles, began the second concert with Bach’s Cello Suite No 6, played with consummate musicianship, faultless intonation and beauty of tone. If I continue to find this music uninteresting, it is certainly not his fault.

A highlight of the second concert was Schumann’s great Fantasie in C, Op. 16 superbly played by the Australian pianist Ian Munro who was also the excellent accompanist for Wolfgang Holzmair.

If the remainder of the festival maintained this high level of music and performance, the audience would have had much to be grateful for.