No one has ever come up with a convincing explanation of what makes a conductor and an orchestra a good fit; but when the chemistry works, you know it. And it worked with a vengeance last week when the conductor Paavo Järvi led the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (one of Germany’s best) through two concerts given over to orchestral works by Schumann.
Schumann’s large-scale music gets a mixed press: it can feel congealed and clumsy by comparison with the unlaboured genius of his songs and chamber scores. But Järvi is a champion, in a modest, unflamboyant way. He doesn’t force things, he just lets the music speak. And it spoke eloquently in these concerts, which were the distinguished highlight of the Klosters Festival in Switzerland: run by David Whelton, former boss of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra.
Klosters is one of those small but perfectly formed Swiss skiing villages that flourish in winter (when Prince Charles flies in with his snow boots) but struggle in summer. So, like Verbier and Gstaad, it set out to create a summer draw. It built itself a hall. It hired Whelton, a respected figure with pristine music contacts. And this second year of operation was a real success, with artists such as Steven Isserlis (playing Schumann’s sometimes underwhelming Cello Concerto as though every note was a source of joyous abandon) and a self-assertive horn quartet which had the swagger of a boy band (wearing dodgy outfits that resembled ushers at an Essex wedding) but were otherwise impressive. Calling themselves German Hornsound, they played yet more Schumann with testosterone-fuelled Teutonism of the kind that marches into Poland.
But the ultimate selling point of a festival like Klosters is the combination of music and place. Sitting in one of its smaller venues last week for a four-hand piano recital, I looked out of a window onto the mountains and watched paragliders floating past to the accompaniment of elegantly modulated Mozart. It was an experience you don’t get at the Wigmore Hall, and one that Mozart might have endorsed had he been able to imagine it.
Imagination is a major factor in performance; and for this at least, the account of Schubert’s frosty song cycle Winterreise, given at London’s Temple Church on an inappropriately sweltering day by the soprano Angelika Kirchschlager, scored points. She felt the music deeply and delivered it with drama and conviction. But the voice itself was sounding thin, unlike the sassy, stylish instrument it used to be when she was in her prime and starring at the Royal Opera House.
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