Stirring rendition of Enescu’s ‘Octet’
The RTÉ Vanbrugh and Jupiter String Quartets produced a blitz of energy
The Vanbrugh Quartet
The west Cork Chamber Music Festival in Bantry went out in a blitz of energy on Saturday, with the combined RTÉ Vanbrugh and Jupiter String Quartets in a performance of the youthful Octet by George Enescu. Enescu is best known through the tuneful romp of a Romanian Rhapsody for orchestra, a work which, sadly for his cause, is not at all typical.
The teacher to whom Enescu declared the greatest debt was André Gédalge, who wrote a famous Treatise on Fugue. Enescu once declared: “Polyphony is the essential principle of my musical language; I’m not a person for pretty successions of chords. I have a horror of everything which stagnates . . . Harmonic progressions only amount to a sort of elementary improvisation. However short it is, a piece deserves to be called a musical composition only if it has a line, a melody, or, even better, melodies superimposed on one another.”
There are times when Enescu can sound a bit like someone holding court through the simplest of means, regenerating his sentences so that they never seem to end – except that there’s usually more than one sentence at a time. The Octet is massive and intimate, almost orchestral at one extreme, and like a delicate, individual reverie at the other. For a 19-year-old student, which Enescu was when he completed it in 1900, it’s an astonishing achievement, and the Bantry performance captured all its moods with rare fidelity.
Enescu featured elsewhere in the festival, too, with Ukrainian pianist Alexei Grynyuk finding his best form in a technically resourceful performance of the neo-classical Second Suite. He did not sound quite as well in his contributions to the memorial concert for Romanian pianist Mihaela Ursuleasa, who was booked for this year’s festival, but died, aged 33, last August.
This year’s standout performances included the mesmerising mechanisms of Ligeti’s second book of Études from the quick-fingered Finnish pianist Joonas Ahonen, a recital of songs by Falla, Ernesto Halffter, Turina and Montsalvatge from the heart-warming Spanish mezzo soprano Clara Mouriz and pianist Julius Drake, the utterly seductive tone of Finnish clarinettist Christoffer Sundqvist in Osvaldo Golijov’s The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind with the Jupiter Quartet, a rigorous, penetrating performance of Haydn’s Seven Last Words from Cuarteto Casals (even if the PA muffled Theo Dorgan’s reading of words by Michael Hartnett), and Tchaikovsky’s sextet Souvenir de Florence, led by Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman with ineffable ease, playing a Strad that had been used in the première. John Kinsella’s new quartet, his fifth, premiered by the Vanbrughs somehow flew past me. Working out whether that was my fault or the music’s will have to await a second hearing.
The history of opera in 21st-century Ireland has been full of unpredictable twists and turn. Orchestras from Belarus and Kraków have played in the pit at the Wexford festival. Opera Ireland, which seemed on the up when Niall Doyle was appointed chief executive in 2006, has gone out of business. The Irish National Opera company that was to replace it disappeared in a puff of smoke.
New players have emerged, with Fergus Sheil’s Wide Open Opera bringing Ireland its first Tristan und Isolde since the 1960s and setting what seems to be an Arts Council record with a first-time grant of €608,465 in 2012. Oliver Mears’s NI Opera has presented home produced Wagner in Belfast (The Flying Dutchman), taken an Irish production to China (Britten’s Noye’s Fludde) and will present the Irish première of Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest in October.