Quite simply, there is no prettier part of England than the Cotswolds. The topography of hills and hidden valleys, the exquisitely variegated textures from centuries of farming and grazing, myriad dry-stone walls and ancient hedges, abundant broadleaf woodland and exceptionally picturesque villages: these are reasons enough to visit.
As a region to choose for a festival of music, however, the clincher is the cluster of great mediaeval churches. Products of the wealth generated by the wool trade, these mini-cathedrals are among the most beautiful of the parish churches of Europe, and can comfortably seat an audience of a hundred or so. Other venues are a grand Regency hall and an Arts & Crafts home.
The music is as beautiful as you would want to hear. Largely English, it ranges from Renaissance polyphony with The Tallis Scholars, world-leaders in their genre, to the burst of bucolic late Romanticism from the great composers of the earlier twentieth century performed by the Orchestra of St John’s.
There is the sumptuous sonority of Tudor-era wind instruments from the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, the stirring magnificence of English anthems with the incomparable Gabrieli Consort, and folk songs and their art song derivatives with the young tenor, Matthew Long.
Six concerts in all, and like all our festivals, they are private occasions, with access exclusive to those who take the full package which includes accommodation, dinners, talks, transport to each venue and much else besides. Another feature in favour of the Cotswolds are the good-quality hotels. We have selected five for you to choose from.
Between the concerts there is free time in which to explore the lovely towns and villages in which the hotels and concerts are located.
Exclusive access: the concerts are private, being planned and administered by Martin Randall Travel exclusively for an audience consisting of those who have taken the full
Seats: specific seats are not reserved. You sit where you want or where there is space. In the churches seating is largely on pews.
Duration: two concerts are about an hour long with no interval, four are full-length concerts with an interval.
Repeats: one venue can accommodate only half the audience so this concert is repeated.
Protestant England: sacred music for early Anglicans
The Tallis Scholars | Peter Phillips director
Church of St Mary, Fairford
Weelkes: O Lord, arise, When David heard – Tomkins: When David heard, Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom – Mundy: O Lord, the maker of all things – Byrd: Great Service Te Deum – Tallis: Te Deum ‘for meanes’ – Byrd: O God, the proud – Tomkins: O God, the proud – Blow: O Lord God of my salvation – Purcell: O God, thou art my God
This programme surveys a cappella Anglican music as it developed after the initial Protestant experiments and on into the later 17th century. Here are some of the most remarkable composers ever to write for the Church in English – from Byrd, through Weelkes and Tomkins, to Purcell and Blow – culminating in Purcell’s O God thou art my God, which sums up a hundred years of spectacular musical composition.
With over four decades of performance and a catalogue of award-winning recordings, Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars have done more than any other group to establish sacred vocal music of the Renaissance as one of the great repertoires of Western classical music. They have brought Renaissance works to a wide audience in churches, cathedrals and concert halls on every continent except Antarctica (plans to remedy this omission are in progress).
One of England’s greatest ‘wool’ churches, the chief glory of St Mary’s at Fairford is the stained glass – the only complete set of mediaeval narrative glass in England. In this sequence the artist and royal glazier, Barnard Flower, portrays the history of the Christian Church. Remarkably, Fairford also holds the largest surviving collection of late mediaeval woodwork.
‘Till the stars fall’: the traditional in English art song
Matthew Long tenor | Ian Tindale pianist | Justin Quinn guitarist
Traditional songs with guitar accompaniment: The Turtle Dove – She Moved through the Fair – The Ash Grove – O Waly Waly – The Last Rose of Summer – The Parting Glass – Auld Lang Syne. Songs with piano accompaniment, Holst: The Thought – Quilter: Go, Lovely Rose – Weep You No More, Sad Fountains – Vaughan Williams: Tired – traditional: Orpheus with his Lute – Butterworth: Six songs from a Shropshire Lad – Finzi: Oh Fair to See.
The traditional melodies and stories of these Isles were an integral part of the musical palette of our best known English art song composers. Here, Matthew presents gems of the English song repertoire alongside his own arrangements of traditional songs for voice and guitar from across the British Isles.
As a boy treble, Matthew Long toured Italy as Miles in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. After studying music at the University of York and the Royal College, he worked with some of the UK’s most highly regarded ensembles including The Sixteen, Tenebrae and I Fagiolini, and has been a soloist with leading orchestras. Opera roles include the lead in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, first in Venice in 2016 for Martin Randall Travel. He has recently made a recording of British folk songs, classical songs and orchestral arrangements of well known anthems.
Rodmarton Manor is one of the finest secular accomplishments of the Arts and Crafts movement. In keeping with the ethos promoted by William Morris and John Ruskin, the house was built and furnished (1909–26) using traditional techniques, local materials and local craftsmen. Also local designers: Ernest and Sidney Barnsley were leading lights in the Cotswolds-based Arts and Crafts phenomenon. The house was commissioned by the Biddulph family, who still live here and have graciously allowed this concert.
‘Music for Windy Instruments’: cornetts, sackbuts & virginals
The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble
St Peter & St Paul, Northleach
Parsons: The Song Called Trumpets – Tye: In nomine ‘crye’ – Byrd: Miserere – Christe qui lux – Henry VIII: If Love Now Reynyd – Holborne: Pavane & Galliard – Ferrabosco: Exaudi, Deus – Coperario: Fantasia – Bassano: Fantasia – Anon.: O sancta Maria virgo – The Short Measure Off My Lady Wynkfyld’s Round – Uppon la mi re
Instrumental music rarely achieves such sonorous beauty as with the rarely-heard but evocative pairing of sackbuts (renaissance trombones) and cornett – that hybrid renaissance wind instrument capable of such vocality and virtuosity. This programme shows the range of English music for these and other instruments whose heyday lasted from the reign of Henry VIII to the eve of the Civil War.
In 2018, The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble celebrates twenty-five years spent at the forefront of the early music scene. In that time the group has performed at many major music festivals and concert halls in the UK and abroad, sometimes in collaboration with other ensembles. They have been involved in many memorable recordings, including Flower Of Cities All with music from Shakespeare’s London and the award-winning Striggio Mass in 40 Parts with I Fagiolini.
In the 15th century Northleach was the premier wool-town of the Cotswolds. The wealth this brought found magnificent expression in the staggeringly beautiful Perpendicular church of St Peter and St Paul, which is situated in a tree-lined churchyard on the edge of the village. The interior, brilliantly lit through large clear windows, is full of fascinating mediaeval features including the country’s finest assembly of monumental brasses.
Orchestral Rhapsody: the spirit of English Romanticism
Orchestra of St John’s | John Lubbock conductor | Mathilde Milwidsky violin | Hannah Davey soprano
Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham
Delius: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring – Summer Night on the River – Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending – Quilter: Songs – Walton: Two Pieces from Henry V – Warlock: Capriol Suite – Holst: Brook Green Suite – Britten: Folksongs – Finzi: Rhapsody
Masterpieces from the English Rhapsodic tradition, the expression of deep feeling which constitutes a culmination of Romanticism in music. Imbued with love of nature and the countryside, tempered in some cases by experience of the First World Wars.
The Orchestra of St John’s was founded fifty years ago by its director, John Lubbock, to build an orchestra that would serve the community and not just be part of the ‘music scene’. Its original home was St John’s Smith Square in Westminster but its centre of gravity has now shifted to Oxfordshire. OSJ appears regularly at concert halls and festivals throughout the country.
The community bias has been the main drive behind John’s tireless enthusiasm to make the highest quality of music-making available to those who might otherwise have had little or no musical experience, and he has gathered around him a group of outstanding performers who share his ethos. In 2015 he was awarded an OBE for services to music and to people with autism and learning difficulties.
The Pittville Pump Room is the magnificent centrepiece of comprehensive development of an estate on the edge of Cheltenham built in the 1820s. In Greek Revival style, it is the last and largest of the buildings erected to cater for visitors to Cheltenham in the wake of the discovery of curative waters in the early 18th century and overlooks the lawns and lakes of Pittville Park. The Main Hall is in regular use for concerts.
Catholic England: the last of Latin polyphony
The Tallis Scholars | Peter Phillips director
St John the Baptist, Burford
Taverner: Magnificat (a 6), Quemadmodum – Mundy: In aeternum – White: Exaudiat te – Byrd: Mass for All Saints – Sheppard: Laudem dicite Deo – Mundy: Vox Patris caelestis
In their second appearance at this festival, The Tallis Scholars present two of the most elaborate pieces ever written in England for the Catholic Church: John Taverner’s six-part Magnificat and William Mundy’s Vox patris caelestis, arguably the culmination of the great antiphon tradition. Sandwiched between them are some dazzling masterpieces, including Byrd’s Propers for All Saints Day, a response by John Sheppard for men’s voices only and Robert White’s astonishing Exaudiat te, with an Amen to end all Amens.
Taverner was composing when there was no Church in England other than the thousand-year-old Catholic one. The Catholic musical tradition continued to evolve to the end of Henry VIII’s reign, little molested by Protestant principles, and after the Puritan interlude under Edward VI there was a mini Counter-Reformation under Mary I (1553–58), to the great benefit of composers such as Mundy, Sheppard and White. But thereafter the Reformists gained the upper hand, and recusants like William Byrd ran great risks by secretly composing for the Catholic liturgy. It is possible that his royal employer was aware but turned a blind eye; Elizabeth’s extravagant musical tastes were unconstrained by her avowed Protestantism.
The exceptional loveliness of the little town of Burford is not let down by its church, which Simon Jenkins rates as the finest in Oxfordshire. Unlike the other major Cotswolds churches, St John the Baptist is the outcome of piecemeal accretion from the 12th century onwards, funded by individual families rather than a syndicate of citizens. Nor is the church let down by its excellent Victorian glass, which is largely by Charles Kempe.
Visions & Mystics: five great twentieth-century anthems
Gabrieli Consort | Paul McCreesh director | Robert Quinney organist
St John the Baptist, Cirencester
Walton: The Twelve (1965) – Howells: A Sequence for St Michael (1961) – Vaughan Williams: A Vision of Aeroplanes (1956) – Finzi: Lo, the full, final sacrifice (1946) – Britten: Rejoice in the Lamb (1943).
This is a sequence of five of the most spectacular anthems of the mid-20th century. Transcending liturgical propriety, these works achieve imaginative, almost symphonic levels of expression, setting texts ranging from the ecstatic to the apocalyptic, the sublime to the ridiculous, the universal to the intensely personal. Underpinned by organ parts of the most demanding virtuosity, Visions & Mystics is a thrilling display of the Gabrieli Consort at its most daring and dynamic.
Founded and led by artistic director Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli perform and record great choral and instrumental repertoire from the Renaissance to the present day. They have won an international reputation for excellence, innovation and ambition. Through lively music-making, committed research and the production of ground-breaking recordings, Gabrieli’s mission is to challenge common and accepted perceptions of classical music, and to re-invigorate and innovate in order to sustain the relevance of great art in the 21st century.
By some measures the largest parish church in the country, St John the Baptist is the most splendid of the Cotswolds ‘wool’ churches. Its celebrated three-storey south porch is also the largest in England. Inside, the sheer height and width of the three great aisles of the nave, rebuilt 1516–30, are breath-taking. The chancel is 13th- and 14th-century. The organ was built by Father Willis in 1895 and rebuilt by Harrison & Harrison in 2009.
The festival package includes
Tickets to all six concerts
Three nights in the hotel of your choice
Three dinners and breakfasts
Travel between events by private coach
Tips for hotel staff, waiters, drivers
Talks by a music historian
Festival staff to ensure smooth running of the event
Travelling to and from the festival
Day 1, Monday 21st May
The first event. Coaches leave the hotels shortly after 4.00pm for the first concert at Fairford Church (The Tallis Scholars, Protestant polyphony). Bedrooms at the hotels should be ready for occupation from 2.00 or 2.30pm.
Travelling by car: there is parking at all hotels, free of charge – see the hotel descriptions on pages 10–11.
By rail to Kemble: coaches meet the direct 11.36–12.51 London Paddington to Kemble train (April 2017 timetable). We recommend that you book train tickets as soon as possible after they are put on sale about three months before the festival. Taxis from stations at Swindon, Oxford or Cheltenham will take 35 to 50 minutes, depending on the hotel chosen (not included in the package price).
Pre-festival tours: participants on Walking in the Cotswolds reach their hotels by 3.45pm. Those who have booked on Walking Hadrian’s Wall (14–20 May 2018) make their own way to the festival (though we are happy to advise on train times and to provide a quote for accommodation on the 20th May).
Day 4, Thursday 24th May
Return to the hotel: after the last concert, the Gabrieli in Cirencester, coaches return to the hotels by 4.30pm.
By rail from Swindon: coaches also travel from Cirencester to Swindon railway station, arriving by 4.30pm. There is a direct Swindon–London train 16.43–17.39 (timetable April 2017). (Currently – April 2017 – the direct Kemble-Paddington trains are not at convenient times. Kemble, however, is an easy 7-mile taxi journey from Cirencester.)
Accommodation and prices
We have reserved rooms in five hotels in Lower Slaughter, Burford and Bibury. For location, amenities, comfort, service and price, we believe these are the best in the area.
Prices given are per person.
Rooms vary: as is inevitable in historic buildings, rooms vary in size and outlook.
Quiet?: Traffic noise may affect some rooms, but generally the hotels are in quiet areas with little traffic in the evenings, especially in Lower Slaughter.
Bedrooms are spread through several cottages and a main building which was originally a 15th-century weaver’s house – a charming warren of corridors and steps with low ceilings and exposed timber beams, comfortable and cosy. Bedrooms are individually decorated and with antique furnishings and modern touches. Some rooms have a bath with shower fitment, others have both a bath and a shower. There are two lounges, as well as a terrace and garden, a good restaurant (three AA rosettes), and a bar which is popular with locals.
Very Good double or twin room: £1,720
Good double for sole use: £1,720
Very Good double for sole use: £1,880
Located in a famously pretty village, The Swan is a 17th-century former coaching inn on the banks of the River Coln. Bedrooms are individually and tastefully decorated with traditional furnishings brought up to date with modern touches. Bathrooms vary in size; some have a bath with shower fitment while others have a bath and a shower. There is a fairly small but airy ‘writing room’ at the front, a cosy bar and a garden with seating. Food in the contemporary brasserie is good. This is the only hotel with a lift.
Very Good double or twin room: £1,790
Good double for sole use: £1,790
Very Good double for sole use: £1,960
A couple of minutes from The Manor, this is a more informal and less glitzy hotel. Externally traditional, the modernised interiors still retain the charm of a country inn. Bedrooms are spacious, simply decorated and well equipped. Most bathrooms have a bath with shower fitment; higher categories have both a bath and shower, and a few have a bath in the bedroom. For dining, there is a traditional bar area with beamed ceilings or a bright and contemporary restaurant (same menu, two AA rosettes). The Inn sits within four acres of informal seasonal gardens.
Superior double or twin room: £1,850
Junior Suite (double or twin): £1,960
Cottage Suite (double only): £2,040
Classic double for sole use: £1,960
Deluxe double for sole use: £2,040
Superior double for sole use: £2,220
Bedrooms are spread between the main house, garden rooms, and cottages. All are individually decorated in a charming, traditional style but with a few contemporary twists. Due to the nature of the building, there are lots of stairs and some floors are uneven. Some bathrooms have a bath with shower fitment while others have both a bath and a shower. The restaurant is bright and contemporary with a flagstone floor and there are two cosy lounges as well as a pretty garden.
Very Good double or twin room: £1,880
Excellent double or twin room: £1,930
Suite (super-king): £2,140
Good double for sole use: £1,880
Good Garden double room for sole use: £2,040
Built in the 17th century as a private mansion, this very comfortable 4-star hotel stands in its own grounds in the centre of the village. Bedrooms vary but are a good size, stylishly furnished and well equipped. Bathrooms are generous in size and well lit; some have a glass door to the bedroom. Most have a bath with shower fitment, while higher categories have both a bath and a shower. The recently renovated downstairs has three elegant lounges and other amenities. The renowned contemporary restaurant has been rewarded three AA rosettes. The Manor is surrounded by five acres of landscaped gardens, set in the picturesque village of Lower Slaughter which borders the River Eye.
Junior suite (king-sized bed): £2,040
Suite (king-sized bed): £2,140
Garden Suite (king-sized bed): £2,310
Classic double for sole use: £2,040
Deluxe double for sole use: £2,220
Some walking is unavoidable on this festival, between coach and venues and to get around towns and villages visited. Four out of the five hotels do not have a lift; The Swan in Bibury is the exception. Participants need to be sure-footed and able to manage everyday walking and stairclimbing without difficulty.
Everything is so well planned and one feels so ‘looked after’. Music, hotel, food all most enjoyable as always on a MRT holiday.
The attention to detail, the intelligent and creative programme, the kindness of the staff, and the unstinting standard of everything made me feel extraordinarily privileged to be a participant.