The 25th Delft Music Festival marks the first full year of the Festival’s new Artistic Director, Georgian pianist Nino Gvetadze, who takes over from Liza Ferschtman. This year’s theme is People & Stories. The whole festival will be a collection of stories and a lot of those stories and people, and indeed composers, come from Ms. Gvetadz’s part of the world. And, not surprisingly, the emphasis this year will be very much on the piano whereas under Liza Ferschtman, the violin was very prominent. Another change, or rather innovation, will be the creation of the Delft Chamber Music Academy, where young musicians will get a chance to meet each other, work with prominent musicians and perform the concerts during the Festival.
Here are reviews of the concerts we attended. Starting with the most recent . . .
Unusually, Joseph Haydn composed Die Sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze in three versions: the original version for orchestra, in oratorio form and tonight’s arrangement for string quartet, performed wonderfully by the Meccore Quartet.
According to the Gospels, while dying on the cross, Christ uttered seven short sentences. In the late medieval period they were compiled to form a “septenary of words on the cross”. Around the end of the 17th century, Jesuits in Lima, Peru, created a specific 3-day Passiontide devotion based on Christ’s words. It ended at the hour of his death around 3 p.m. Soon the idea reached Europe, in particular catholic Spain and Italy. Around 1785/86 Cádiz commissioned Haydn to compose this work for the city’s Easter festival.
The Schuilkerk Bagijnhof, hidden in a lovely secret square of Delft, is a catholic church in the Dutch Baroque style. As with most churches I have visited here, it seems simple, if not plain. On one side, plain windows, on the other, leading to the altar, there are vast snow white ornate frames which must have displayed grand religious paintings. From the multitude of ornamental mouldings one must suppose that once they were all gilded in true Baroque style. Plainly, the Baroque was driven out with some zeal. But, its high vaulted ceiling has impressive acoustics, perfect for this evening’s concert.
The excellent Meccore Quartet, sitting appropriately under the over-life-size statue of Mary and child with Jesus on the cross above the altar, energetically yet subtly played their way through the drama of Hayden’s composition. The lighter parts spoke of pathos and resignation, the darker ones, dominated by the deep sounds of the cello, of raging despair.
I’m perhaps glad this was not the orchestral version. The finale, the Terremoto (earthquake), which can only be described as the ultimate musical turbulence, would surely have caused the shaking, if not the collapse of this small but perfectly formed church.
During this festival I have become a fan of the Meccore Quartet, only because of the superb quality of their performances. The frequent eye contact between them, the occasional smile exchanged, for me in any case, make a huge difference – they truly love playing together. Catch them wherever you can. Astrid Burchardt
I must admit it – as a notebook fanatic, Krzysztof Penderecki’s 2008 String Quartet No. 3, Pages of an Unwritten Diary proved irresistible. The Meccore Quartet – Wojciech Koprowski and Judyta Kluza, both on violin and Michal Bryla and Marcin Maczynski, viola and cello respectively – gave a riveting performance laden with emotion.
Polish born Penderecki (1933-2020) admitted that having witnessed Auschwitz and Stalin’s destructive rule, he had lived in hard times. Both left their mark. In his compositions he walked the tightrope between mainstream and avant-garde music. He was influenced by his mother’s Orthodox religion and his father’s love for gypsy music, phrases of which appeared in this work. He wrote the opera The Devils of Loudun (for 100 voices!) which bishops and even the Pope tried to banish from the stage. His ability to switch in seconds from one mood to another is stunning. Not surprisingly, this fitted perfectly when used in the blockbuster films The Exorcist and The Shining. The Meccore Quartet put their heart and soul, as well as their backs, into this gripping performance. Bravo.
The second half of this concert was of the Piano Quartet No.1 by Gabriel Fauré forcefully played by Nino Gvetadze on piano, Alissa Margulis, violin, Meghan Cassidy, viola and Julian Arp on cello. It provided a stark contrast to what was possible, or not, a century before Penderecki.
Fauré was deeply influenced by classical and religious music and both were evident in this piece. A serial womaniser with a good handful of mistresses and sporting a walrus moustache, he was an influential figure who searched for renewal. At first playful and rolling at the start, the piece plunged to deep melancholy to rise anew in the last part with a tumultuous finish. Once again, a brilliant performance.
The late night concert, called Nino’s Wonderland, lived up to its name. Nino Gvetadze on piano, along with Daniel Rowland’s hypnotic strains on the violin and Maja Bogdanivic’s haunting cello created a veritable dreamland.
We were transported to lands of mystery and magic by means of gigantic projected images of by adventurous botanists travelling to far-away lands such as the East Indies, bringing back illustrations of magical beasts and plants. I also especially loved the typography, floating down into the images as if from heaven, announcing each piece of music, then floating off to dissolve as dying sounds do. On the musical menu were nature related pieces of English composer, poet and occultist Cyril Scott, some of which reminded me strongly of Eric Satie.
Nodar Gabunia’s Toccata deceptively began in a pensive mood only to come to a thumping crash as it ended. Debussy lyrical pieces formed the backbone of the concert, but for me Ravel’s Habanera was the highlight as Daniel Rowland, seemingly led by his violin, moved around like a somnambulist. All three performers were dressed in white which reinforced the tenebrous mystery and serenity of the night. I can only wish for more concerts like this under the excellent direction by Nino Gvetadze in the future. Astrid Burchardt
This was the first free open-air concert of the Festival for three years and it made its triumphant return the town’s Markt last night in a rousing concert by Sinfonia Rotterdam in front of 2900 spectators.
Let’s be honest, tickets for the Festival are not cheap so for the Festival and Delft Gemeente to mount a free concert for all to enjoy is to be highly commended and made a splendid evening with the towering Nieuwe Kerk providing the backdrop and the statue of Hugo Grotius standing guard.
Unlike previous free concerts, which often provided a taster for the Festival as a whole, last night’s concert was a showcase for the excellent Sinfonia Rotterdam under the exuberant baton of Conrad van Alphen who, on a good day, would give André Rieu a run for his money. He brings an infectious enthusiasm to proceedings, relishing every cadence and crescendo as though hearing them for the first time.
As one would expect for a concert of this type, there were a lot of crowd pleasers, none more so than the first piece, Johann Strauss’s Overture to Die Fledermaus. Extracts from Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 and Overture to Die Freunde von Salamanka provided slightly meatier fair but the highlight of the concert was undoubtedly the appearance of violinist Isabelle van Keulen to play the first movement from Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin and Strings in D min. Written when the composer was only thirteen years old, Ms van Keulen matched the energy of the piece with an exhilarating performance.
Of course, as on all such occasions, George Frederic Handel was much in evidence, firstly with a piece from Water Music and later with the rousing Music for the Royal Fireworks which provided an adrenaline-charged culmination to the proceeding – although I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been nice if they could have lashed out a few Euros on some actual fireworks. That would really have provided a worthy climax to a superb evening. Michael Hasted
The Festival got underway in the magnificent Van Der Mandelezaal of the city’s Prinsenhof complex with a concert called, appropriately enough, Overture which promised to introduce us to most of the characters we’ll encounter throughout the journey of this festival.
One thing I particularly like about the Festival is its cocktail of pieces from the canon of more traditional chamber music along with the presentation of more modern works, many of which will be unfamiliar to the audience. The opening concert demonstrated this melange from the word go.
First up was Joseph Haydn’s ever popular 1790 String Quartet No. 53 in D maj. Op. 64/5 played by the four young men of excellent Munich based Goldmund Quartet. They brought an energy and excitement to the piece which made everybody sit up and pay attention, bringing a vitality and freshness which only youth can do.
Equally exciting was Nino Gvetadze’s first appearance on the Mandelazaal stage playing Improvisation & Toccata by Georgian Nodar Gabunia. This is a composer I have not heard before but one I shall certainly look out for in the future.
Hungarian Ernő Dohnányi (also known as Ernst von Dohnanyi) is another composer whom I was please to discover last night. His 1893 String Sextet in B flat maj, was one of the pieces the 17 year old submitted as part of his entrance examination to the Budapest Music Academy. It is scored for two violins, two violas and two cellos and was played by the Goldmunds, augmented by Sebastian Klinger’s cello and Ivan Vukčević’s viola. This sextet is an amazing piece of music which the six musicians endowed with an incredible richness, verve and joie de vivre that made it, for me, the outstanding piece of the evening.
After the break Karolina Weltrowska on violin and pianist Ketevan Badridzeo played two charming Chansons Populaires from 1883 by Augusta Holmès.
The harp is an instrument in a class of its own, producing ethereal sounds and moods that put us in mind of idyllic other worlds or maybe heaven itself. Gwyneth Wentink gave us Fantasy for Harp “On a Theme from Eugene Onegin” op. 81 (1909) by Ekaterina Walter-Kühne on an instrument so beautiful and shiny it looked as though it belonged on the altar of some grand cathedral.
For the final piece of the evening Nino Gvetadze and cellist Sebastian Klinger returned to the stage and were joined by violinist Baiba Skride to play Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s 1839 Piano Trio No. 1 in D min, Op.49. Played with such a joyous enthusiasm it had the audience on its feet in a fitting climax to the opening night of the Festival. Michael Hasted