Review: Winchester Festival opening concert at Winchester Cathedral

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Long before the concert began, the cathedral precincts and nearby streets were already buzzing with activity thanks to the historic Hat Fair.

Unlike some festivals, Winchester’s clearly remains full of life.

The programme, consisting of a pair of major 19th century French works, was worthy of the occasion – and rugby-loving conductor Owain Arwel Hughes drew the threads of performance together with the flair of a classic Welsh fly-half.

He drew the very best from the Philharmonia Orchestra, formidable cathedral organist Andrew Lumsden and an army of singers including Hampshire County Children’s Choir.

The individuality of the Berlioz Te Deum might have been even more effectively realised with period instruments, but the hymn sections were thrilling and the prayers movingly effective – notably in the pleading rhythm of Dignare Domine and in tenor soloist William Kendall’s urgent yet lyrical singing.

The third symphony by Saint-Saens was notable for the chaste sincerity of the slow movement, lifting the music to a higher spiritual plane than it often occupies.

A shame the scherzo was taken too absurdly fast to register properly in the cathedral acoustics.