Classical music: West Cork Chamber Music Festival

Bantry House/ St Brendan’s Church

Classical music: West Cork Chamber Music Festival

The 20th festival opened on Friday last with what I took to be a little piece of quirky humour — Mozart’s “Dissonance” quartet — on the part of the festival director, Francis Humphrys. It suggested, perhaps, that dissonance and its resolution might be the guiding philosophy underlying the music chosen for the week.

The programmes for the first weekend, however, were principally made up of music of the 18th and 19th centuries — safe, familiar music. Just four of the 21 works that I heard were written in the last 100 years.

All four, however, were significant works, music that made one think about beauty and ugliness, sadness and joyful resolution and to listen with intense concentration.

Naturally, works of this nature arouse different emotions, opinions, and talking points. And this: total strangers sharing ideas and opinions during intervals and post-concert encounters is what makes the wonderfully friendly atmosphere of the West Cork festival so special.

Reviewing my first hearing of Jorg Widmann’s Jagdquartett in 2013, I confessed my puzzlement at why a musician as sensitive as this clarinet virtuoso/ composer would choose to write music of such brutal ugliness.

Its brilliant performance by the Signum Quartet on Saturday did nothing to enlighten me. Brett Dean’s Epitaphs, on the other hand, was totally absorbing, full of novel sounds and effects, and Derry composer Seán Doherty’s String Quartet No 3 The Devil’s Dream is a significant, most effective addition to the quartet repertory.

The indispensable Vanbrugh Quartet superbly interpreted both works. The 1926 Suite for Solo Cello by Spaniard Gaspar Cassado brought me into a wonderful, slightly dangerous, but marvellously excitingworld that David Cohen brilliantly explored, and Shostakovich’s 1944 E minor Piano Trio received a fabulously exciting performance from Alina Ibragimova, Natalie Clein and Jose Gallardo.

Among my (other) personal highlights were Barry Douglas’s masterly reading of Schubert’s A major Sonata, D959, the Cremona Quartet, with Lilli Maijala (viola) playing Mozart’s quintet in G minor, and Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Trio, played by Liana Gourdjia, Marc Coppey, and Peter Laul.

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