West Cork Chamber Music Festival review: Sweet sounds in Bantry

It was the third time that the West Cork Chamber Music Festival was lucky, as the immersive music festival finally celebrated its 25th anniversary with ten days of live music at Bantry.

Director Francis Humphrys responded to current challenges by scheduling more recitals and this year’s festival offered an even wider repertoire than previous years.

Nathalia Milstein performing at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, Bantry.

For the first time, a choice of two evening recitals took place simultaneously at the two main venues, a strategy which provided some insulation against the current vicissitudes and inevitable cancellations due to covid.

    The Allora Quartet performs in Bantry.
The Allora Quartet performs in Bantry.

String quartets were at the heart of this year’s program. In one evening at Bantry House, I heard three of the star ensembles. The Cologne-based quartet Signum opened the evening concert at the Bantry House Library with a piece by Mozart.

Hot on their heels, Britain’s Doric Quartet gave us an invigorating rendition of Bartok’s second quartet followed by a premiere of Dark Matter Hunting, a work by Deirdre Gribbin inspired by astrophysicist Priya Matarjan who was in the audience. The biggest tingle factor came during the late performance of Brahm’s F minor quartet from the Czech, Pavel Haas Quartet with Boris Giltburg on piano, the changing light from dusk to night and flickering candlelight adding magic fiery game.

The Orsino Ensemble at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival in Bantry.  Photo: Cathy Desmond
The Orsino Ensemble at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival in Bantry. Photo: Cathy Desmond

The Belgian quartet Quatuor Danel convincingly defended the quartets of Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg, a friend of Shostakovich who fled Warsaw for Russia during World War II. At an afternoon recital at St Brendan’s Church, I heard two of his quartets, all seventeen of which were scheduled for performance at Bantry this week.

The turbulent winds of the Ensemble Orsino offered a welcome antidote to the timbre of the strings in a charming all-French program. The highlight was a witty 20th century work by Jean Francaix.

After a few windy and wet days, the sun made a brief appearance when Anna Fedorova arrived at the dock. Seated at the grand piano in a little black dress, the Ukrainian virtuoso had an almost ethereal platform presence and captivated a packed house at Bantry House for a performance of all four Chopin Ballades in a flawless performance.

  Martin Hayes at St Brendan's Church in Bantry for the West Cork Chamber Music Festival.  Photo: Karlis Dzjamko/Alamy Live News
Martin Hayes at St Brendan’s Church in Bantry for the West Cork Chamber Music Festival. Photo: Karlis Dzjamko/Alamy Live News

Chamber music is the music of friends, and there was a feeling of friends gathered in all the festival centers of this seaside town. As one guest artist told me, “We feel like we’re at home”.

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