When ETO last visited Snape seven months ago at the beginning of their Spring Tour the Covid axe fell a few days later and the bulk of the season was lost. It was, therefore, particularly appropriate and heartening that they should return to Snape to launch their Autumn Season and Tour.

Naturally, safety and economic pressures have compelled artistic endeavours to look towards the lean and lithe but hard times are no barrier to creativity, particularly to James Conway, the ever resourceful and inspirational head of ETO. The joy of the current programme is the opportunity to hear first class works that , for whatever reasons, are infrequently heard.

The first concert (of two) on Friday was an intriguing choice – A Water Bird Talk by the American composer Dominick Argento. Drawing to some extent on Chekov’s short story ‘On the evils of Tobacco’ and smartly directed by Susan Bickley, baritone Julien Van Mellaerts and pianist Ella O’Neill were in full accord, everything delivered with clarity and aplomb.

The second concert contained two works by Poulenc, the main one being La Voixe Humaine, a one act opera written by the French artistic polymath Jean Cocteau. It concerns a young woman in the middle of an anguished telephone conversation with her (unseen and unheard) lover and the collapse of their relationship. Paula Sides was authentic and gripping throughout the 45 minutes and pianist Sergey Rybin was an excellent accompanist. This was followed by the song cycle ‘Tel Jour, Telle Nuit’ to words by Paul Eluard, engaging music with Poulenc’s trademark wistfulness and wit, nicely delivered by Jenny Stafford and Van Mellaerts.

On Saturday we heard two fine song cycles by Michael Tippett, Boyhood’s End and The Heart’s Assurance, sung with ardour by Thomas Elwin and Britten’s powerful ‘Holy Sonnets of John Donne, superbly delivered by Richard Dowling. Katie Stevenson gave a haunting performance of Shostakovich’s spare settings of poems by Marina Tsvetaeva and the excellent Ian Tindale accompanied throughout. Notable balletic contributions came from Rae Piper, Rahel Vonmoos, Paul Chantry and Bernadette Iglich.

Wonderful, thought provoking concerts that deserve widespread acclaim.