A CREATOR OF IMMORTAL WORKS at the Februari Festival in The Hague

Stephanie Desjardins and Peter Nilsson.
Photo Tessa Veldhorst  © De Schaapjesfabriek

There was a packed programme to close the Februari Festival on the theme of Beethoven. We were treated to the sound of the Fugue in D the splendid church organ in the Nieuwe Kerk. Apparently, some called it Beethoven’s fairground piece. Be that as it may, it was beautifully rendered by Gijsbert Kok who took his bow from high up under the splendid wood-beamed arches of the church. This was followed by 15 Bagatelles, arranged by Peter Stamm for wind instruments – flute, oboe, horn, clarinet, and bassoon, the last to played by Alexander Glücksmann and Christopher Knitt respectively who seemed to enjoy their music enormously.

Both reappeared later in the Septet, smiling either to themselves or each other – lovely. Peter Nilsson on piano and soprano Stéphanie Desjardins singing five Lieder followed. Once a grumpy Beethoven declared that he did not like writing Lieder because, unlike an instrument which is capable of almost anything, he had to limit himself to what could be sung by the human voice. Tonight’s audience must have been as glad as I was that he had applied himself to the Lieder, just to be able to hear Stéphanie Desjardins whose perfect voice effortlessly filled the Nieuwe Kerk. As an added bonus, super-talent Isreali Ishay Shaer let his fingers fly over the piano keys as he played the Andante Favori in F.

The second half of the programme was the meat of the evening – the Septet  in E flat major for three wind instruments and four strings, spurned on by Antje Weithaas who seemed to be dancing as she wielded her bow. There was a beautiful connection between the players who drew every nuance possible from the septet which is at times delicate as gossamer, at others almost Wagnerian in heft.

The septet was first performed in 1800. The score contains the notation: “Dedicated to the Empress Maria Theresia.” I’m sure she was impressed, as I was.

This has been a wonderful festival with an excellent programme and faultless performances from musicians whose careers span across the best concert houses of the world. I’m already looking forward the next Februari Festival.    Astrid Burchardt      16th February 2020

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