Eclectic mix at West Cork Chamber Music Festival

Early evening recitals at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival emphasised the variety of talent on offer, reports Declan Townsend

AN absorbingly eclectic mix might be the most accurate way of describing what I have heard in the first three evening concerts of this year’s festival.

There have been solo recitals, duos, quartets, and quintets, composed as long ago as 1640 and as lately as last year, and the standard has been, as usual, first class.

The two solo recitals emphasise the variety on offer. On Saturday night we heard Russian-born pianist, Olga Solovieva, playing Schumann’s captivating Papillons, Op 2, while Sunday night brought cellist, Natalie Clein, playing a sonata written for, and dedicated to her by Thomas Larcher.

Schumann’s piano music holds so many happy memories for me that I was looking forward to Solovieva’s performance, not having heard her in anything but ensemble music last year and been bowled over then by her sheer musicianship. She did not disappoint. Singing (noiselessly) as she played, she was totally absorbed in these miniature dance masterpieces as she perfectly captured their magic. Like the music’s reluctance to leave go of the penultimate chord’s notes, I was sorry that her performance had come to the end.

Winner of the 1994 BBC Young Musician competition, Natalie Clein did not disappoint either. Larcher’s Sonata, different in structure from anything I have heard, seems to have been inspired by two particular qualities of Clein’s playing; her exquisitely expressive tone, and her phenomenal technical ability. The first is exploited, over and over again, by a gently meditative idea, accompanied by quiet left hand pizzicato tones. Exploiting her technical skill, he has written double and treble stop chords that would be impossible for cellists with less ability to stretch, as well as incredibly fast, agitated passages that take her all over the instrument at every degree of dynamics. While all of this might suggest that we are hearing virtuosity devoid of musical worth, nothing could be further from the truth. There is a constant feeling that the music is progressing, totally logically, to a point known only to the composer. I enjoyed the journey.

I cannot say that I greatly enjoyed either of the Bartok Sonatas for Violin and Piano, played so virtuosically by Tanja Becker-Bender and Peter Nagy. I find the music that Bartok wrote prior to 1930 too barbaric, aggressive, and irrationally dissonant, unlike the music that came later. These two sonatas, written in 1921 and 1922, give little opportunity to violinists to do what they do best — make the instrument sing. There are some quiet, introspective passages in both, passages that allow the sound to float, as well as more rhapsodic ideas, but for the most part the music seems to to be written against the instrument, rather than exploiting its best features.

Catherine Leonard and Hugh Tinney, in their late-night recital, created a sound world of great beauty, finding it in music by Lutoslawski, Beethoven and Ravel. Lutoslawski’s miniature Recitative and Arioso (1951), though quite dark and intense, manages to be sufficiently lyrical for the composer to avoid the charges of ‘Formalism’ that dogged the career of Shostakovich. Their interpretation of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata sounds just as well, just as intense and well-thought-through, in the flesh as it does in their excellent recording. They really captured the essence of Ravel’s wonderful 1927 Sonata in G. Beginning mysteriously on the piano, it is not clear where the music is going. It soon becomes evident that this wonderfully atmospheric work is, in the first two movements, an artist’s way of absorbing the essence of jazz and, in particular, blues and integrating this essence into art music. The third movement is just fun music, brilliantly exciting stuff, in which both revelled.

We heard the three quartets play very different music. Apollon Musagéte Quartet, from Poland, began the festival with Szymanowski’s 1st Quartet. From its pianissimo, very high, beginning, it promises to become an exciting, intense work. There are many ideas that tumble over one another, several good climaxes, lots of interesting effects, some intensely sad lyrical melodies, and a Shostakovich-like fugato in the finale, yet the whole work did not quite live up to what it seemed to promise.

Ending the opening concert, RTE Vanbrugh Quartet’s impeccably brilliant performance of Mozart’s D major quartet, K 575 reminded listeners (if they needed reminding) of just how lucky Ireland is to have such world-class players in our midst.

Saturday’s evening concert brought the third ensemble, Signum Quartet, from Germany. Formed in 1994, their experience, sense of ensemble, and warmth of tone immediately showed in their exquisite interpretation of Schumann’s gorgeous 2nd quartet in F. The so-far-unheard Chiaroscuro Quartet will perform in the Coffee Concert from Bantry on Lyric FM at 11am tomorrow.



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