Bantry champions classical masters

In one week, 109 works from the past six centuries will be performed at chamber music festival, says Declan Townsend

EACH year, when I get the programme for the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, I wonder how one man — festival director, Francis Humphrys — can do so much. Once again, he has amazed me with the variety of events, artists, compositions and composers he has assembled for the delight of the international audience that attends this annual festival.

The figures are staggering. Between Friday, Jun 29 and Saturday, Jul 7 there will be 37 concerts, 20 masterclasses, and six morning talks in five venues: Bantry House, St Brendan’s church, St Brendan’s hall, The Maritime Hotel, and the Brick Oven.

I counted 109 works by 53 composers, the earliest being by Claudio Monteverdi (born 1567). The youngest composer is English woman, Charlotte Bray, born in 1982. These figures do not include the new works submitted for the composer’s prize.

Music by the great masters of chamber music — Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann — feature prominently, but Humphreys has found nine composers whose names are new to me. Five of these are living, two lived in the 17th century, one died in 1969 and the other, Juan Crisostomo Arriaga (1806-1826), was known as the Spanish Mozart because he was a child prodigy and died young.

Composers I know, but whose music is unfamiliar, include the Poles, Szymanowski (1882-1937), Lutoslawski (1913-1994), and Penderecki (b 1933), American, George Crumb (b.1929), Argentinean, Osvaldo Golijov (b 1960), and Czech, Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942). The greatest surprises in this year’s programme were the two composers whose names are familiar to every violin teacher but to few others. These are the Frenchman, Jacques Mazas (1782-1849), and the German, Carl Bohm (1844-1920), both of whom wrote attractive, elegant light music that is eminently suitable for violin students.

Each day, Monday to Friday, there will be a concert featuring young people at 2.00pm in St Brendan’s hall. The Trá Trio and the Young European Strings Chamber Orchestra will be the performers at these, in addition to the four ensembles (Benz Quartet, Cairde Quartet, Gildas Quartet, and Westland Piano Trio) which will receive masterclass tuition throughout the week.

Each day will begin with morning talks in the Brick Oven. Evelyn Grant will talk with performers about their lives, work and music. At 11am, St Brendan’s church is the venue for the coffee concerts. Five of the seven will feature early music by masters of the late Renaissance and baroque eras (Monteverdi, Purcell, Vivaldi, Handel etc), played on period instruments, including lute, recorders and harpsichord. On Wednesday, Jul 4 and Thursday, Jul 5, the Chiaroscuro Quartet will play quartets by Mozart.

The programmes for the ‘stars in the afternoon’ concerts, each day at 4pm in St Brendan’s, are astonishing in their variety. Beginning on Saturday, Jun 30 with Paganini’s 24 Caprices, played by Tanja Becker-Bender, there will be duets, trios, quartets, quintets, and a sextet in the following days. These will involve voice and piano, wind, strings, and piano ensembles, performing music that does not exert the listener.

The music of this year’s composer-in-residence, Thomas Larcher from Austria, both challenged and interested me greatly when I heard it at last year’s festival. I am looking forward to hearing Natalie Clein playing his Sonata for Violoncello on Sunday night and, on Tuesday night, his Still for Viola and Chamber Orchestra played by Lawrence Power, with the Irish Chamber Orchestra.

This concert will be in St Brendan’s, as will Thursday night’s concert, which features Robin Tritschler (tenor) and Graham Johnson (piano). Their performance of Schubert’s Die Schone Mullerin was one of last year’s highlights. This year’s offering is the even more moving Die Winterreise.

As regular WCCM festival-goers have come to expect, Humphrys’ programme building is always interesting. This year’s Bantry House opening concert features Szymanowski’s Quartet No 1, Bartok’s first Violin Sonata, and Mozart’s 21st quartet, K 575 in D major. Sunday night brings quartets by Schumann, Tchaikowsky and Deirdre Gribbin, while other nights bring a much more eclectic mix, all of them intriguing. Perhaps the most adventurous programme of all is Wednesday’s late night concert (at 10.30pm), when Catherine Leonard (violin), Ji Hye Jung (marimba), and Andreas Brantelid (cello) will play a programme of American and Argentinean music by Bright Sheng, Eric Erwazen, John Serry, and Osvaldo Golijov.

I cannot help wondering where, or how, Humphrys got the inspiration for this concert.

* Online booking at www.westcorkmusic.ie. Tel. (353)(27) 52788 or LoCall 1850 788 789 and by post to West Cork Music, 13 Glengarriff Road, Bantry, Co. Cork

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