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Incontri in Terra di Siena, La Foce, Italy — a Romantic week in Tuscany

Incontri in Terra di Siena, La Foce, Italy — a Romantic week in Tuscany

August 07
14:49 2018

The 30th anniversary of Incontri in Terra di Siena­ — the chamber-music festival based on Tuscany’s La Foce estate — hewed together respected middle-generation names for a week of big Romantic repertoire. Like many such events, it has familial roots: it was founded by US-based cellist Antonio Lysy to memorialise his grandmother, La Foce’s famous wartime chatelaine, the writer Iris Origo.

But these factors also create a difficulty: how to offer the headline pieces that attract an international audience? With established chamber ensembles honing their repertoire daily, what expectations should be placed on a festival ensemble?

It is a challenge that Incontri in Siena chose to meet head-on. The “heart” of the festival — according to musical director Alessio Bax — was a Schubertiade that centred on five of the Schwanengesang sung by Ian Bostridge and a festival performance the C Major String Quintet. Both composed as Schubert confronted an early death, this is the holiest ground of chamber music, eliciting fierce loyalty from audiences.

Bostridge’s deep immersion in Schubert song allowed him to frame the noirish environment of the Schwanengesang with great nuance. In “Far Away”, his pairing with Bax on piano presented a certain rhythmical insistence to loneliness. Ending on a snarl of dysfunctional impotence, it held up a mirror to even the most repressed listener. This reflects Bostridge’s mission that lieder are not simply about enjoyment, they are about emotional recalibration. In “Warrior’s Foreboding”, he captured the escapism of a soldier’s remembered dream — followed by the dark longing of its final line: “Soon I shall rest well and deeply.” An equal skill is knowing when to step back from the material. The aesthetic love song “Serenade” was presented with a welcome touch of ironic detachment. Yet still he found a discomforting undertow in the final lines: “Trembling, I wait for you. Come, make me happy!”

The String Quintet presented a greater challenge. Its uncompromising musical architecture offers a lifetime’s work for an established string quartet, with even the recruitment of an extra cellist being a task of the utmost sensitivity. Antonio Lysy took the lead cello part, joined by first violin Daishin Kashimoto — leader of the Berlin Philharmonic — and Lawrence Power on viola. Second violin was Esther Hoppe; second cello, Christian Poltéra.

They opted for warmth and restraint, offering an intentionally fragile reading of the opening theme. Moderation was an understandable choice yet proved hard to maintain as the character of the different players emerged across each movement. Kashimoto’s bright — almost solo — tone was a world away from Lysy’s flat pizzicati. Such tensions meant that when they needed to pull together — to recapitulate the opening Allegro or launch the violent second theme of the Adagio — it was without the necessary conviction. Yet in both the Scherzo and the Allegretto, they found a meatier style which pleased an audience of dedicated international Schubert obsessives. First among equals was Power, whose gleaming viola lines should have been the cornerstone of the performance.

Flautist Emmanuel Pahud © Paul Flanagan

The week closed with a sonata recital, where flautist Emmanuel Pahud — also normally anchored to the Berlin Philharmonic — stole the show with his stylish arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Sonata in F Major. A positively edible slow movement more than vindicated Pahud’s ongoing programme of flute transcriptions. Bookending the evening were Mozart’s G Major and Brahms’s D Minor violin sonatas. With Bax’s rich accompaniment, Kashimoto took full advantage of the elbow room he had been seeking earlier in the week. The soaring concertmaster sound was deployed with diamond precision, showing particular sensitivity at the close of each of Brahms’s large-scale movements.

Big soloists aside, the festival’s history has been strongest when showcasing lesser-known ensembles to a European audience. These have included US imports the Borromeo Quartet and the Accademia Monteverdiana and — opening this year — the Camerata Strumentale di Prato, celebrating its 20th year with Elgar’s Serenade for Strings. Continuing to grow in this direction will ensure a successful next 30 years for Incontri in Terra di Siena.


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