A week of beautiful music at Bantry

Ticket sales at the 18th West Cork Chamber Music Festival were substantially up on previous years, with a record number of sell-out concerts and, for the first time, waiting lists.

But the organisers faced challenges, including the cancellation of star violinist, Nicola Benedetti, due to ill-health, and the late arrival of the Jupiter Quartet from the US, due to flight delays.

Three other visiting violinists took on Benedetti’s appearances, in addition to their own, while her trio partners created a new programme of duos to cover for her absence.

Leading violinists Vadim Gluzman, Elina Vähälä and Pekka Kuusisto provided the violin-virtuosity fixes. Gluzman’s performance of the Chaconne, from Bach’s ‘Partita No.2’, was spellbinding, and his duets with Kuusisto, in the Monday night main concert, were exciting. Vähälä shone, performing Penderecki duets with bassist, Niek de Groot and Jaako Kuusisto (brother to Pekka).

Gluzman’s leadership of an all-star quintet, for Shostakovich’s ‘Piano Quintet in G minor’, in the finale concert, was a festival highlight, as was his leadership of the Trout Quintet in a lovely performance that included the lieder version for the song, by soprano Ruby Hughes. The seismic voice of Niek de Groot’s 1780 Amati bass overwhelmed the cello in the Trout Quintet, but was thrilling.

The Irish Chamber Orchestra’s concert on Tuesday night was superb. The orchestra’s agility and verve made a strong impression — the ICO is a pinnacle in Irish classical music, of which the country can be proud. They performed with Pekka Kuusisto leading, a relationship of several years that is a match made in heaven, with Kuusisto’s vibrant enthusiasm and rebelliousness a perfect complement to the orchestra’s virtuosity.

The festival’s Baroque concerts were joyful to the audience, thanks to the vibrant playing of the Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg, with Irish cellist and recorder-player, Kate Hearne. Featuring a number of guest musicians, all their concerts were popular, in particular the Friday morning all-Bach programme with soprano, Deborah York.

Pianist Alexei Grynyuk gave compelling and beautiful performances. He played three works by Enescu, in memory of pianist, Mihaela Ursuleasa. Ursuleasa had been originally booked to showcase the Romanian composer’s work at this year’s festival, but, sadly, she died last year. In her place, Grynyuk performed the works masterfully, the highlight being the vivacious ‘Romanian Rhapsody No1’. His commanding performance of Schubert’s ‘Four Impromptus’ was a festival highlight.

The festival’s 20th-century and contemporary music was very strong. Airings of Ligeti’s music were well-received, both the Kelemen Quartet’s blistering performance of his ‘Quartet No 1’, on the opening night, and Joonas Ahonen’s performance of his second ‘Book of Etudes’, a set of small but epically conceived virtuosic works that were mind-blowing under Ahonen’s fingers.

All four visiting string quartets put in powerful performances and displayed a great variety of character, while RTÉ’s Vanbrugh Quartet provided highlights. The closing octet of the combined Vanbrugh and Jupiter Quartets, playing Enescu, summed up all the beauty and inspiration this year’s festival had to offer.


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