PREVIEW: Iffley Music Festival

By Giles Woodforde

"It all began with the considerable cost of hiring a grand piano for one event" organiser Michael Bourdeaux told me. "So last year we had five concerts over one week-end, the Iffley Anglo-Russian Piano Festival. I was amazed by the response: five full houses - so I said yes when asked to put on another festival this year. This time I've organised five very different concerts."

The festival, from February 13-15, kicks off with a Czech duo, mezzo-soprano Lucie Spickova and pianist Lada Valesova, who will include Czech repertoire in their programme. They were in Oxford recently for the Oxford Lieder Festival, where the audience much enjoyed their fresh and unfamiliar repertoire of Czech songs, and their relaxed, light-hearted presentation.

There is also a strong emphasis on performers with local connections. Lucie Spickova studied at Oxford University, and violinist Rebecca Minio-Paluello and her pianist partner Kate Whitley both come from Oxford - Rebecca's earliest violin lessons were in Iffley itself. Their programme on Saturday (14) includes sonatas by Debussy, Janacek, and Ravel's fiendish Tzigane. Pianist Craig Greene and flautist Louise Maltby are both music scholars at Oxford. Craig's recital was a highlight of last year's festival. On Saturday evening, they play a mixed programme of pieces ranging from Handel to contemporary works.

There is one solo piano recital - by Cordelia Williams, who won the piano section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2006, and who had to withdraw from last year's festival through illness. On Sunday afternoon she offers a programme of Schubert Impromptus and Chopin pieces including the fourth Ballade. She is also premiering Hugh Brunt's Fracture, the first-ever commission by Iffley Music Society. The final concert features cellist Madeleine Ridd, with a rich programme, including Brahms and Beethoven sonatas and a Bach unaccompanied cello suite.

All concerts take place in Iffley Church Hall, an intimate venue which combines a warm atmosphere with a lively acoustic.