Risør Festival of Chamber Music at Wigmore Hall [Saturday]

Capriccio – Sextet
Piano Concerto No.14 in E flat, K449
Mahler, arr. Schoenberg
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Clarinet Concerto
Divertimento for Strings

Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)

Measha Brueggergosman (soprano)

Martin Fröst (clarinet)

Risør Festival Strings

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 27 November, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Leif Ove Andsnes. Photograph: EMIWhile London, currently in the grip of an early cold snap, seems far removed from the long summer evenings of the Risør Festival’s Norwegian home, the warmth and spirit of this second evening of Risør magic delighted for all of its almost-three-hour duration, making the post-concert return to the ice chill of Wigmore Street a little less dreadful than it seemed on the way in.

This was a celebration of chamber music, but not chamber music as we’d normally think of it. Rather than the usual string quartets and piano trios, this was music-making more broadly defined as a collaborative venture, with some works more-often encountered in a larger auditorium free from the centralised direction of a conductor. Copland’s Clarinet Concerto had the flexible feel of a clarinet quintet, and Bartók’s Divertimento seemed more intimate than the twenty-plus string-players, squeezed onto the platform, might suggest.

The Sextet that opens Richard Strauss’s “Capriccio” required the smallest ensemble of the evening, led by Henning Kraggerud and featuring violist and Risør Festival co-director Lars Anders Tomter, the group playing with rich vibrato in the more relaxed music and precisely and charged in the brief moments of stormy drama.

Mahler’s “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” appeared in Schoenberg’s version made for a series of concerts given by the Second Viennese School, though it feels like a transcription made for convenience rather than through belief. It was the habit to reduce orchestral works to an ensemble of string quintet, clarinet, flute, piano and harmonium, but in this case Schoenberg conceded the need for a little extra percussion. The result is far removed from Mahler’s soundworld; the piano and harmonium in particular seeming out of place. The reduced wind did, however, recall the Jewish element in Mahler’s music and maybe he would have enjoyed the final song, ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’, morphed into a mournful cabaret number. Less appealing was Measha Brueggergosman, who really dragged the first song, ‘Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht’, and over-inflecting the vocal line. Her vibrato was at odds with the clarity of the instrumental playing, though her operatic approach did suit the violent trauma of the third song, ‘Ich hab’ ein gluhend Messer’ (I have a gleaming knife).

A pair of concertos was in some ways the finest parts of the programme. In Mozart’s E flat Piano Concerto, Leif Ove Andsnes played with supreme delicacy and clarity, never having to unduly bend Mozart’s filigree writing to produce expression and life. The Risør Festival Strings played with a punchy but vibrato-less sound, exemplified particularly by the tutti preceding the first movement cadenza which sprang forth with tremendous vigour. The Andantino was particularly affecting, and the finale was informed by the most infectious sense of joy.

Martin Fröst. Photograph: Mats BäckerThe tightly packed string-ensemble was joined by a harp (Lucy Wakeford) and a piano (Marc-André Hamelin) for Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, Martin Fröst leading the ensemble through this dazzling work composed for Benny Goodman. Fröst produced the sweetest, most silken tone, seeming to tease the first notes of the central cadenza from pure silence. It’s surprising that this great piece isn’t more commonly encountered, though it’s difficult to imagine a better performance than this. Fröst joked that as the concert wasn’t long enough, they had prepared something else, a Jewish folk-melody arranged for clarinet and strings by Fröst’s brother. Fröst initially produced a quieter sound than seemed possible before working his way through every technical trick in the book: an unexpected and delightful treat.

Finally, and despite just two double basses, Bartók’s Divertimento benefited from an amazing depth of tone from the Risør Festival Strings. This earthy score finds a vein of intense menace in the second (of three) movements and includes one of Bartók’s most-vigorous folk-dance finales. The Risør Strings left us with an arrangement of Schumann’s ‘Abendlied’ from the Opus 85 set.

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