The West Cork Music Chamber Music Festival’s commitment to contemporary music was demonstrated from the off, with the Danish String Quartet playing Hans Abrahamsen’s 10 Preludes to begin the opening concert. They tore into it bristling with confidence. For those of us for whom such atonality remains somewhat impenetrable, we could still admire the quartet’s unity of attack and tone and their take-no-prisoners approach.
Janacek’s Kreutzer Sonata, played by the British Doric String Quartet, was superb. Their fluent grasp of the Czech composer’s musical language brilliantly conveyed a sense of maddening obsession, claustrophobia and the dark foreshadow of fate.
Busoni’s Violin and Piano Sonata performed by Nurit Stark and Cedric Pescia after the interval was pretty but rambling after the terseness of the first half, and the Vanbrugh Quartet’s dry approach to Debussy didn’t feel particularly French.
Among the weekend’s highlights, Sunday morning’s coffee concert by Concerto Copenhagen with Swedish soprano Maria Keohane was a joy. Keohane’s luscious voice and playful, intelligent approach to the early Italian programme was succulent and moreish. Particularly striking was the music of Tarquinio Merula.
In a mostly earthy concert, his intimate portrayal of Christ’s mother rocking her baby to sleep amid terrible premonitions of his fate was an effective contrast, and time stood still in the bare tension of the Copenhageners’ accompaniment.
The Danish Quartet’s late-night performance on Sunday of Beethoven’s Op.132 crowned the weekend. They surprised with a restrained approach which opened wide the music. From judicious use of vibrato to extraordinary harmonic colour and impeccable ensemble, it was a gripping performance. A subtle Scandinavian folk air encore returned us to the soundworld of that heart-stopping Molto Adagio, a perfect end to a perfect concert.
The festival continues until Saturday.