Town mouse visits Surrey

Friday evening saw us hurrying for a train to Dorking, to hear the choirs of the Leith Hill Music Festival. The festival was founded in 1905, as part of the Arts-and-Crafts effort to rekindle communal life in depopulating villages-akin to the movement that would soon begin to construct village halls.

As any admirer of Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens knows, the Surrey Hills were prime Arts-and-Crafts territory, but they weren’t alone as a site for a festival for village choirs; 16 were in existence by the First World War. But where others have faded, Leith Hill continues to thrive.It maintains its edge by a competition in different disciplines between choirs; this year, Holmbury St Mary swept the board.

A statue of Ralph Vaughan-Williams stands outside the Dorking Halls. Brought up at Leith Hill Place, he conducted the festival from its inception until 1953. Friday’s concert featured Brahms’s German Requiem, in which the orchestral accom-paniment was replaced by four hands at the piano, in a setting-recently discovered-scored by Brahms himself.

Whatever the benefits of economy, it also allows the choir to be heard with greater clarity. Congratulations to the pianists Alan Brown and Jean Douglas Tutt; how they kept their fingers from getting intertwined, I’ll never know.

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