The 21st West Cork Chamber Music Festival opened in Bantry House on Friday to a full house. In his opening address, director Francis Humphrys noted the event’s vital role at a time when borders are being closed.
Frank Hannigan, speaking on behalf of sponsor RTÉ, echoed Humphrys’ sentiments. He stressed that shared cultural heritage outweighs growing nationalism. This year’s festival hosts musicians from 18 different countries across three continents, and audiences will hear music by composers of 14 nationalities.
The first concert opened with a world premiere performance of Devil’s Dwelling Place for solo violin. Commissioned from Deirdre Gribbin to mark the Somme centenary, the piece was not for the faint-hearted but was given a convincing performance by Israeli virtuosa Nurit Stark.
We were on more familiar territory with Beethoven and there was a poignancy to see the members of the Vanbrugh Quartet, pictured above, take the stage. After 20 years of this festival in which the Quartet has played a key role, 2016 is the last in which they perform, with their final performance together scheduled for less than a year away.
A group that is never more at home than playing Beethoven in Bantry, they played with all the subtlety, directness and unity of sound for which they are renowned. They will perform Beethoven’s earlier Quartet No. 11 tomorrow evening in a star-studded all-Beethoven concert which promises to be a festival highlight.
After the interval we were treated to performances from two astounding international string quartets, the Kelemann Quartet from Hungary and Borusan Quartet from Turkey. The Hungarians are returning festival favourites and gave an electric performance of compatriot Bartok’s fourth quartet.
As if to prove the opening speakers’ point, though, it was the Turks who stole the show. Having come through Istanbul airport to play here just days after the recent attack, they received well-deserved cheers for their performance of the beautiful Quartet No. 1 by 20th-century Turkish composer Ahmed Adnan Saygun.