The February Festival makes a welcome return after all the recent problems with the Corona virus. The concerts are presented in the Nieuwe Kerk in the centre of The Hague, this year for the first time by Amare, the new house for culture, education, events and meeting on Spuiplein, just across the road. During five festival days, young top talent share the stage with world-class national and international musicians.
Each year the annual February Festival concentrates on the work of a single composer. This year the spotlight is on the Austrian composer Franz Schubert, king of the Weltschmerz, and undisputedly one of the most important composers of the Romantic era.
ArtsTalk Magazine deputy editor Astrid Burchardt reviewed three of the concerts . . .
Pieter van Loenen, Florieke Beelen, Hannah Strijbos and others
At the end of a long day copying a manuscript a 12th century monk once wrote: -The hand moves, but the whole body hurts. After today’s performance of Schubert’s Quintet in C, D956 I can only imagine that musicians, in this instance anyone playing a string instrument, must feel the same after giving a concert.
First up in today’s programme, the final one in this year’s Februari Festival, we heard Schubert’s String trio in B-flat major, an excellent performance by Andrej Roszyk, Takehiro Konoe and Emanuele Silvestri. It was composed in 1816, the year the composer took the huge risk of cutting himself loose from his teaching job, for what would today be described as sofa-surfing and the rather wild life of young men of the time. The string trio was followed by Ishay Shaer on piano with a rendition of the 1846 Franz Schubert/Franz Liszt Auf dem Wasser zu singen and Der Müller und der Bach. Schubert seemed to have a fondness of all that was water – rivers, mill streams or a wild river. Ishay Shaer sat down briskly, did away with the music sheet stand and proceeded in what seemed a delightful private conversation with the sounds he was conjuring up.
Next came two rather dark and gripping Lieder, Auf dem Strom, sung by mezzo soprano Florieke Beelen, accompanied by Mees Vos and Peter Nilsson. There followed Erlkönig, the dramatic tale of a father riding through the night with his delirious son in his arms only to find the child dead on arrival.
Topping the bill was the Quintet, completed just two months before Schubert’s tragic death in 1828. Ever energetic and seasoned German violinist Antje Weithaas with young Pieter van Loenen, Hannah Strijbo and Pieter de Koe and Laura van der Heijden, both on cello, all gave their very best performance.
In Schubert’s Quintet in C gone are the sweet, light-fingered tones of the compositions for the daughters of Count Esterhazy. This is a mature work which manipulates emotions to perfection. It illustrates Schubert’s states of mind due to cyclothymia, a form of bi-polar mental illness, as well as syphilis. He died of mercury poisoning which was wrongly believed to be a syphilis cure, aged just thirty one. He composed over 1500 works, a quantity which may have been the result of his manic episodes. At the Februari Festival in The Hague this year, we were lucky to hear some of his best work.
The Gleister Duo
Today’s performance by the Geister Duo (multi-prizewinning David Salmon and Manuel Vieillard) was an unexpected emotional experience for me. On the programme were the Sonata in B sharp, Allegro moderato and Andante D968, both suitably flowing and playful as they were probably composed for his pupils, the daughters of Count Esterhazy. There followed variations on a theme from Herolds opera Maria D908 and Deutscher & Ländler D618. But it was the last piece, the Fantasia in F D940 that brought back memories of my early childhood in Vienna in an apartment filled with this very piece played by my aunt, as well as during a later work stint in Venice in a similar, rambling 18th century apartment, where this Schubert composition alternated with his quintet in C major.
The Fantasia in F, composed just six months before his death of typhus, aged only thirty one, was dedicated to one of the unattainable young Esterhazy sisters and was thought to be a love declaration (a relationship between a mere music tutor and commoner and the daughter of a Count was out of the question). To me the whole work seems an ever-recurring question, at times melancholy with its start in C and F (Caroline and Franz?), then vehement, Beethoven-like, furious even, and descending into doubt, returning with high, timid notes, asking soto-voce, only to escalate to frenetic despair, but always asking the same question. I was surprised how this work gripped me by the throat, but then that is what music can do – it reaches parts that one didn’t know where there and today the Geister Duo certainly achieved that and I was not the only one in the audience to be moved.
Simply Quartet and the Gleister Duo
The Februari Festival at the Nieuwe Kirk in Den Haag was always a special treat for me. I missed it in the two Corona-stricken years, so tonight felt very special.
The multi-prize winner Geister Duo (David Salmon and Manuel Vieillard) kicked off the evening with gusto, followed by the quartet of Jeroen Dupont, Andrej Roszyk, Takerhiro Konoe and Emanuele Silvestri who were joined by soprano Tinka Pypker to give a fine rendition of Schubert’s setting of parts of Goethe’s Mignon.
For me the absolute high-point of the evening came in the second half with the Simply Quartet launching into Schubert’s 1826 String quartet No.15, discovered long after his death, lying silent in a forgotten cupboard. It caused a sensation at its first ever performance in 1850 due to Schubert’s innovative juggling with major and minor. It was his last quartet and sounds as if he was dans tous ses états, as the French would describe extreme emotional states. This was a tour de force by the Simply Quartet, much enhanced by the expressive playing by the excellent Xiang Lyu on viola who seemed to live every moment of the piece – wonderful. Wherever you are, do not miss the Simply Quartet if you get the opportunity.