This final concert was all about the night and its mysteries, a time when confidences and confessions are made, words spoken which cannot be uttered in broad daylight.

Tonight’s music captured these mysteries perfectly –Wagner’s prelude from Tristan and Isolde’s impossible love, Respighi’s tragic love in Il Tramonto, Chausson’s Ophelia-like death in Chanson Perpetuelle op.37, John Cage’s A Perilous Night and finally, Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht op.4.

In Wagner’s prelude from Tristan and Isolde, played wonderfully by a sextet with Giovanni Gnocchi and John Myerscough on cello, whose first notes, dark and full of foreboding, stealthily slithered into the Prinsenhof’s Van Der Mandelezaal. Throughout the piece the cellos underlined the furious pace of the violin and viola parts, then changing to the sweetest sounds – at one point and emanating from one of the violins or violas, I distinctly heard what sounded like a woman’s voice, pleading.

Ottorino Resphighi’s Il Tramonto, based on Shelley’s poem The Sunset, was beautifully played by the string quartet, in parts the instruments taking turns, but it was the voice of Katrien Baerts that gave it true emotional impact as the piece rose and fell, many passages strongly reminiscent of Puccini.

Ernest Chausson’s Chanson Perpetuelle,  performed in French with great emotion and depth by Katrien Baerts, accompanied by a string quartet and with Hans Eijsackers on piano, was exceptionally dramatic. The text is strongly reminded of the story of Hamlet’s Ophelia and in the last line Katrien Baerts executed a piercing Cri de Coeur which stunned the audience into silence long after she had stopped singing. It brought tears to my eyes.

John Cage’s The Perilous Night, played by the excellent Roman Rabinovich, came almost as a comic relief, for me anyway. It is a piece for the ‘Prepared Piano’ in which some materials are applied to 26 of the piano notes. The result was percussive; the sonority of the piano having been altered and largely extinguished, some sections of the piece at times sounded like rattling cutlery, others were akin to water pipes knocking in the night, yet others conjured up mice frolicking in the attic. Every now and then the surprise of an ‘unprepared’ high piano note suddenly resounded, spiraling like a small firework into the vast space of the hall. Cage’s theme of terror and loneliness was brilliantly rendered and would leave you trembling in bed with your blanket pulled over your head.

Arnold Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht was a fitting and brilliant end to the festival, not only because we had the pleasure of seeing Liza Ferschtman for one last time, working her violin like a dervish, but also for the sheer complexity of the piece all wrapped up in one single work.

Today Schönberg’s piece has entered the catalogue of ‘classical’ music but on its first performance in 1907 many in the audience hissed or left the hall and in the back seats ‘young men could be heard to roar like lions’. An eminent critic wrote that the composer had fallen way short of his aim, ‘trying to make the impossible possible’.

The piece does hold surprises, with influences from Wagner and from Brahms in its construction, and, in between, it plunges the listener into wild passages, perhaps alluding to nightmares, which suddenly give way to the sweetest sounds. Tonight two cellos, two violas and two violinists, with the indefatigable Liza Ferschtman in the driving seat, worked their instruments into a frenzy, ‘making the impossible possible’, so much so that it almost propelled the viola players off their chairs. This was an electrifying performance by all which richly deserves only one word –Bravo – or maybe two – Bravo, Bravissimo!

The audience was stunned before the concert even began when Liza Ferschtman announced that after twelve years she has relinquished the baton of the Festival, passing it on to baritone Thomas Oliemans.  She told the startled audience that it was for only one year in order for her to get new ideas and inspiration. She will remain connected to the Festival as Artistic Director.   Astrid Burchardt,   5th August 2018