Quite a change from the Albert Hall last night: I went to St Andrews church, Greystoke, near Penrith, Cumbria, for the last night concert of the Greystoke Music Festival.

It was a family affair, with Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer introducing and performing their own music and Swedish folk songs on a variety of instruments: a guitar made in Cumbria, Scottish smallpipes, accordion, block flute and the intriguing Swedish nyckelharpa: it's a stringed instrument about the size of a viola but with 16 strings.

Vicki Swan and Jonny Dye are clearly very talented but for my ear they could have chosen better repertoire to entertain their audience. Greystoke church was a rather chilly location for this music, some of which was also "full of dramatic colour" if you want to be polite or a bit dour if you want a description in four letters. The sound of the nyckelharpa is more reminiscent of long dark winters rather than fun at the end of the hottest week in late September for over a hundred years, even in Cumbria. Put another way, if you like sound of the bagpipes then you may warm to the nyckelharpa. Maybe I'm out of my comfort zone this far north!

Organist Fred Dyer from Penrith - Jonny's Dad - introduced and played played a couple of fun pieces which showed off the colour stops of the instrument to great effect, in particular Hornpipe Humoresque by Noel Rawsthorne - it's a set of variations on the familiar Sailor's Hornpipe, in the styles of (and with apologies to) Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, 1st movement), Vivaldi ("Spring," 1st movement, from The Four Seasons), Arne (Rule Britannia) and Widor ("Toccata" from Symphony for Organ No. 5). It's a Brindley and Foster instrument, rebuilt by Victor Saville around 1991.

Fred Dyer then ventured to play a recently-published arrangement by a French organist of Franz Liszt's B-A-C-H Variations which includes the additional material included in the 1871 piano version which Liszt published after the original organ versions of 1855 & 1870. An interesting curiosity, clearly demanding of the parish organ because Liszt's piano version adds a lot of notes as he re-interprets his thoughts for the idiom of the piano.


The vicar of St Andrews church, Greystoke summed it up nicely when he thanked the performers, saying that their banter given the concert more in the style of a family evening entertainment at home rather than a formal concert.