FORBIDDEN FRUIT at the Delft Chamber Music Festival

For a festival that whose avowed intent is to reveal and demonstrate love in all its forms I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later we would, as the concert’s title suggests, get down to the nitty gritty and that sex would finally raise its ugly head.

The evening’s concert started off romantically enough with some classic, largely ballet pieces by Tchaikovsky played by the brilliant Serbian pianist Aleksander Madžar whom I like and admire more each time I see him – and that is now three days in a row. He has matter of fact style, no histrionics, no head thrown back or flailing arms needed to emphasise the astounding brilliance of his playing convincingly demonstrated by him wiping any trace of kitsch from The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Since the beginning of the festival it has been Martin Roscoe who has been warming the piano stool for Mr Madžar but tonight the roles were reversed as it was as the Englishman who was second up on the Steinway to accompany another Brit, flautist Adam Walker, who gave us a spirited and flawless Sonata for Flute and Piano Op.164 by Francis Poulenc.

Mr Roscoe stayed on stage to accompany cellist Kyril Zlotnikov playing Saint-Saëns’ Chant Saphique in D maj. Op. 91 who was followed by Tianwa Yang from China. This was a truly astounding virtuoso performance. I am no violinist but I image Ernest Chausson’s Poème Op. 21 of 1892 must be a real bugger to play. Fast and unbelievably intricate, I had to keep checking that there was still only one violinist on stage because at times I would have sworn I could hear two. Absolutely brilliant.

The second half of the concert should perhaps have been heralded by Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as there was a distinct pan-European feel to the three text-based pieces. First up was Dutch tenor Peter Gijsbertsen whom I so admired from the Opening Concert. Tonight he gave us Benjamin Britten’s Canticle V The Death of Narcissus Op.5 with text by T S Eliot – a sort of up-market Cats. Young Gijsbertsen has a beautiful voice and his accompanist for this was the excellent Israeli harpist Sivan Magan but I was not totally convinced by the piece. I think this song form rather falls between two stools with neither the text nor the music benefitting.

Next up was probably the most extreme composition and performance of the whole Festival that had the audience gasping and laughing in equal measure. It is hard to believe that Erwin Schulhoff’s Dadaist Sonata Erotica was written in 1919 – it would have worn down several censor’s blue pencils until very recently and raised eyebrows even in Oh! Calcutta. Essentially, it is the act of sex transcribed to musical notation and performed, in German, by a female singer – although there was more groaning than singing. The score was projected for all to see and follow on a large screen but it was the astounding performance by Loes Luca that transfixed everyone and she grunted and sighed her way through the moments of ecstasy which I suspect was achieved from a quick knee trembler. And if that wasn’t enough she then took to her bidet to clean herself up after her exertions – and if that wasn’t enough, she climaxed her performance by having a quick on-stage pee into a potty. Now that’s something you don’t get at The Proms.

The concert regained a little respectability, but only slightly less eroticism, with the final segment of the evening in the form of Claude Debussy’s Les Chants de Bilitis. This series of twelve essentially lesbian poems of ancient Greek origin was seductively read in French by Tine Joustra, accompanied by a couple of flutes, a celesta and a pair of harps. Again, the text was projected, with an English translation onto the large white upstage screen for those who did not wish to miss a single syllable. However, with Sonata Erotica it enhanced the performance, with the Dubussy work I felt it distracted. Nevertheless, this was a really enjoyable piece to a particularly attractive combination of instruments. A special mention must go to the harp played by Sivan Magan. There was so much stunning carving and glittering gilt that it looked as though it should have been standing on the altar of a cathedral supporting a bible.

Another great evening at the Delft Chamber Music Festival which is getting better and better as the days progress.  Michael Hasted    29th July 2018


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