In Norway, the classic dichotomy between sea and mountain – here almost always held by the hand – loses much of its meaning. The union is, if possible, even more perfect and prodigal in abrupt contrasts in the archipelago of the Lofoten, a handful of islands clustered on the northwestern coast, which enter like a wedge in the Norwegian Sea above the Arctic Circle. Before connected only by ferry, today several are joined by bridges and how much is seen in the displacements from one to another makes us fall exhausted at every step before the endless succession of natural wonders that continue to remain alien to the Anthropocene. Symbolically, the main road that crosses the islands dies in a point baptized with the most concise and cryptic names, Å, the last letter of the Norwegian alphabet, a sort of finis terrae geographic and literary.
A famous story by Edgar Allan Poe, A descent to Maelström, is set here, in what he calls "the coasts of Lofoden". But the maelstrom that has been lived this week in the islands has not occurred in the sea, but on land, and has been strictly musical, with 14 concerts held mostly in small churches (some very small, such as Valberg) spread over the various islands. Henningsvær acts as a vortex, since this is where all the musicians live and where its base of operations has a festival created by Knut Kirkesæther. In these 15 years he has achieved the impossible: to take to these hidden places – where to have, move and accommodate a grand piano can become an adventure – a coherent festival with a very intelligent and attractive selection of works and performers .
The programming alternates between chamber music (odd years) and the piano repertoire (even years) and, with a philosophy similar to that of more veteran festivals such as those of Lockenhaus or Kuhmo, or of the much more recent founded by Leif Ove Andsnes in Rosendal, another Norwegian paradise, a close coexistence between all the musicians is encouraged, who live in modest houses or cabins, very close to each other, and have breakfast, lunch and dinner together in a simple dining room enabled by the festival. Accustomed to an itinerant life of travel, performances and hotels that leaves no room for anything else, settling in one place (and Henningsvær is a little paradise) for several days promotes camaraderie, interrelationships and, suddenly, the profession becomes more human and freed from its most uncomfortable ballast. At the same time, the routine characteristic of a tour, always with the same repertoire concert after concert, gives way to different programs every day, to a flight from the well-known paths and, above all, to collaborations with other instrumentalists or singers, who leave finally being islands ("no man is an island"Wrote John Donne) and become interconnected parts of a perfectly locked whole.
There is also a firm commitment to present works firmly installed in the repertoire along with others much less frequented, a philosophy that is also applied to the choice of interpreters, with a balance between big names and others little known, but that may end up showing great surprises: the conventional musical life usually oscillates between a small series of interpreters infinitely repeated. But in the Lofoten the logic of the auditoriums and the concert halls completely loses its meaning. The audience is mostly made up of the Norwegians who live here, apart from the world, although the voice has already begun to run and it is also common to see people who have traveled to the islands with the priority intention of enjoying the concerts, of course, to complete the offer with immersion in a nature that is at home here. In fact, the concerts are held in churches nestled in unique natural landscapes, which in the end also monopolize much of the protagonism.
All the musicians act at the beginning and at the end of the festival, as a presentation and farewell card. If they are long, they never touch complete works, because the variety and a certain lightness are the primary objective. Last Monday Queen Sonja was in charge of the inauguration, which arrived at the simple Svolvær Cultural Center (the only building that could be qualified as an auditorium in the conventional sense) with a lack of pageantry that can not fail to be shocking for those of us who are accustomed to blaring security deployments in any real displacement. Here, not a single control, a couple of relaxed and smiling local police and absolutely nothing else. And even more surprising was when, two years ago, we saw Queen Sonja arrive at a concert in the church of Buksnes in a rental car. His speech on Monday, largely improvised, was so informal that it provoked in several moments the laughter of the assistants, who come here to the demand of the music, dressed with all normality and without that eagerness to see or be seen so present in many posthumous festivals.
The big star, probably reluctantly, of this year's programming has been the Hungarian pianist András Schiff, which in turn has provided many of the best musical moments of these days. The first, along with his wife, the Japanese violinist Yūko Shiokawa, who continues playing admirably at age 73, without a single movement or unnecessary gesture, with an amazing economy of means and a smooth and high school sound. its Sonata K. 526 Mozart was a stylistic model that should be taught in conservatories: they did not look at each other during the whole performance, but after forty years together they do not need it because they seem to touch and feel like one person. At the end of that same concert, in the church of Vågan in Kabelvåg (popularly known as the Lofoten cathedral and the church built entirely with the largest wood in Norway), Schiff played Bach, one of his great specialties, specifically the Chromatic fantasy and flight, a perfect sequel to the previous Quartet no. 3 of Johannes Brahms, since it was one of the favorite pieces of the Hamburg composer, who included it frequently in his piano recitals. With hardly any pedal, with a limpid and precise pulsation, with the necessary freedom in the fantasy and the essential clarity in the flight, Schiff drew so much applause and generated such enthusiasm among the audience that he played the only tip that has sounded here these days: Intermezzo op. 118 no. two. From Johannes Brahms, of course.
He closed his performances on Friday with another of the musicians who have always accompanied him: Franz Schubert. The Sonata D. 850, one of the least orthodox of the composer, returned to find an ideal interpreter in Schiff, who interpreted it with much more fire than in him is usual. His version of the original second movement, With motorcycle, marked, perhaps, the highest interpretive moment of the whole festival week. Before, on Thursday night, he had played in the church of Stamsund the Quintet with piano of Brahms along with the Engegård Quartet, founded in the heat of this festival in 2006, and led by Arvin Engegård, a violinist who, in his capacity as artistic director of the festival, is also largely responsible for his kindness. He is a violinist with plenty of resources, with a natural talent and solid technical foundations learned with the great Sándor Végh, also a teacher in Salzburg by Yūko Shiokawa. However, it is enormously unequal and only rarely reaches its highest level, which was what it achieved in the work of Brahms, thanks without a doubt to the constant waves of inspiration that came from the keyboard (Schiff does not fail or never deconcentrates) since the interpretation was guessed prepared and rehearsed with much more care. It was not a youthful and fiery Brahms, but classic, balanced and, at times, almost seraphic, as in the Trio del Scherzo.
The Doric Quartet has left constant samples of great class in all its interventions, although the best have been two top works of the chamber repertoire: the Quartet op. 131 of Beethoven and the Quintet in C major of Schubert. Both have known versions of enormous emotional intensity and an extraordinary modernity, with several specific moments for the memory, like the final section of the slow movement of the Quartet and the central section of the Adage of the Quintet. Although it is a very balanced group, we must surrender to the enormous class of the two women: the Chinese violinist Ying Xue and the French violist Hélène Clément. The English instrumentalists, the violinist Alex Redington and the cellist John Myerscough, are slightly more unequal, although as a whole they form a group of the highest level, which should be much better known in our country and which crowned their performances with a great version of The Four Quarters, by Thomas Adès, presented to the public with great didacticism by Myerscough.
But the big surprises of the week carry other names. On the one hand, the Trío con Brio, formed by the Danish pianist Jens Elvekjaer and the Korean sisters Soo-Jin Hong and Soo-Kyung Hong. Since they played masterly the last movement of the Trio op. fifteen of Smetana at the inaugural concert left an unbeatable impression, corroborated in the conceptually very difficult Trio op. 70 no. one of Beethoven (although the acoustics of Borge's modern church are somewhat ungrateful for music) and in the unusual Trio op. 32 of Arensky, which sounded, without being so, to music of the very first rank, because everything they play is at the highest technical and expressive level. They have not yet performed in Spain, another clear example of the conservatism of our concert life, very reluctant to open the range of soloists and chamber groups and too gripped by the dictatorship of big names. The best chamber music is not often listened to the most brilliant performers, but to the groups most committed to it. And the excellence of the Trio with Brio, applauded in all his interventions, has remained here beyond doubt.
The other great surprise has been that of a Swiss pianist who has all the signs of becoming a great of his instrument: Jean-Sélim Abdelmoula. Disciple of András Schiff, shares with him his reserved nature, his powerful intellect and his extreme sensitivity when playing, not inclined to excesses or free gestures. Here he came to replace the cancellation at the last moment of Ingrid Fliter and on Tuesday he could not leave better feelings in the Fantasy op. 17 of Schumann, one of the colossi (especially in poetic terms) of the pianistic repertoire. He knew how to grant each movement its fair character, although the best essences left them in the third, where he pointed out great artist's ways, corroborated on Friday in his way of playing the piano part of Dichterliebe, another of the peaks of Schumann's art. It was, again, a Schumann of high poetic voltage, who managed to make himself heard despite the hollow, artificial and artificial singing of Johannes Held (also a substitute at the last moment of the announced Thorbjørn Gulbrandsøy). If he's lucky (the competition between young pianists is fierce), Abdelmoula, who Schiff has also praised privately these days for his excellent qualities as a composer, seems called to make a great career: without fuss, but solid and focused on the classics, like that of his teacher.
The rest of the interpreters that have played during the week have been the pianists Joachim Carr and Georgy Tchaidze, the clarinetist Anton Dressler, the bandoneon player Per Arne Glorvigen and the Sonorous Quartet, composed of four very young Norwegian instrumentalists, three of whom improvised on the A small concert is going on at Gimsøy beach at midnight on Tuesday to celebrate a radiant midnight sun, invisible and always covered by clouds in the 2017 edition, but very present this year, in which the festival It has benefited from an unusual streak of good weather and clear skies. A lot of different works have sounded every day, with constant collaborations between the musicians and, inevitably, with few rehearsals, which, far from being an obstacle, in a festival like this can become an incentive for unexpected sparks of emotion to jump in as in concert to use, often dominated by routine or repetition. As the protagonist who tells his story to the storyteller Edgar Allan Poe, before such a vortex of concerts do not have to be cautious, but, on the contrary, let yourself be dragged by it and dive inside. These days, the musical Maelström has been produced on land, not on water. But, in the Lofoten, the sea is never far away.
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