Norway shares just two hundred kilometers bordering Russia on the northeast corner of its territory, but it is the most protected and militarized border in the country. The Scandinavian countries – with Finland in the lead, of course – have always looked with fear and misgivings at their great neighbor in the East, and it is enough to review history to understand why. These days, however, Rosendal, the tiny town of the Hardanger Fjord in which pianist Leif Ove Andsnes has been conducting a small chamber music festival since 2016, has opened its doors wide to music born in Russia Soviet The reason is that, after the editions dedicated to Franz Schubert in 1828, to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and at centenary, last year, of the end of World War I, all the programming has revolved around Dmitri Shostakóvich, the most elusive of Russian composers, the most contradictory, the most inaprehensible, the most ambivalent.
Andsnes has designed a brave programming and certainly the result of reflection, outside the topics to use and far from the sclerotized offer of other festivals. He has achieved not only that very different facets of the composer have been heard (youth, maturity and testamentary works; bright and somber, kind and hopeless, small and large format; chamber music, songs, film music and even symphonies in chamber music arrangements), but also that it has been perfectly covered by that of precursors (Musorgski, Scriabin), contemporaries (Prokofiev, Feinberg, Ustvólskaya) and successors (Schnittke, Vustin). And it has known how to adorn itself of all the virtues to which any great festival should aspire: concentration and intensity (ten concerts of the highest level in less than 72 hours); big names recognized (Clemens Hagen, Tabea Zimmermann, the Danel Quartet and Andsnes himself, of course) along with other deserving of much greater recognition (Marc-André Hamelin); surprises and discoveries (pianists Sasha Grinyuk and Marianna Shirinyan, clarinetist Anthony McGill, the aforementioned composer Aleksandr Vustin); young promises (the Ensemble Allegria); and a theoretical and spoken context to be able to better understand and enjoy this avalanche of generally unusual music, which has been largely carried out by a brilliant and talkative Gerard McBurney, a first-hand connoisseur of Soviet musical reality.
Rosendal also offers something that the most glamorous and wealthiest of the festivals could never buy: a literally unsurpassed natural setting and an oasis of peace before and after the concerts, held in an old converted barn and in The small local church. Contrast the artificial acoustics of the first, electronically modified by the engineer John Pellowe (and that this year has sounded better than ever), with the natural one of the second. The modest and almost familiar concert hall is located within the large estate dominated by a 17th-century manor house and its beautiful gardens, the authentic origin of the town of Rosendal. The church of Kvinnherad, built in the thirteenth century, stands on a small promontory, overlooking the harbor, and offers spectacular views of the fjord and waterfalls, of all sizes, which ceaselessly rush through the surrounding mountains and multiply Like spores when it starts to rain. In both the concerts are often held with the doors and windows open: such are the calm and silence that reign outside.
Shostakovich is the master of ambiguity: the same music seems to refer to one thing and its opposite. That is why the graphic image of the cover of the book-program of this edition is a resounding success: the everlasting glasses of the Soviet composer accompanied only by his surname and his musical acronym (DSCH, the Re-Mi flat-Do-Si notes) to the German musical spelling). Complete the rest, fill and color that great white background is in the hands of each one of us, without trapping us as coarse and simplifying as the one that pergeña Julian Barnes in his latest novel, The Noise of Time, which has the composer as the main character. And these days we have enjoyed plenty of opportunities for, with words and with very different musics – more well-known works, much less widespread others -, to get a better idea of who Dmitri Shostakóvich was, or could have been.
The festival began, however, with the very bad news that what was guessed about the role as one of the most demanding and most attractive concerts of these days (the possibility of hearing no less than twenty-four Preludes and leaks op. 87 Shostakovich, one of the tops of his catalog, in a single session) had to be canceled due to the last minute illness of the interpreter who was to star in the deed: the Russian pianist Igor Levit. From the inaugural concert it was clear, however, that Leif Ove Andsnes had known how to surround himself with great musicians who not only completed the painful gap left on Saturday morning by Levit, but, day after day, have left numerous samples of his excellence interpretive
Thus, on Thursday afternoon, before the initial speeches of rigor, we heard a great version of an unscheduled work by a very young (19 years) Shostakóvich: the two Pieces for string octet, op. eleven. The Danel Quartet was joined by the experience of two established names (violinist Tabea Zimmermann and cellist Clemens Hagen) and the youth of two violinists at the beginning of their careers (Veriko Tchumburidze and Sonoko Miriam Welde). And the scathing, aggressive, stark, rude, mocking composer so characteristic of later works was already fully recognizable in this youth piece. At the other end of the program, the Ensemble Allegria, a string orchestra formed by young Norwegian instrumentalists, played the Quartet No. 8 in the version of Rudolf Barshái renamed as Chamber symphony. And it is very pertinent that this was the case because this is one of the works in which the D-S-C-H motif appears almost obsessively from the first to the last measure, although it is not clear whether Shostakovich uses his musical emblem to assert himself or to protect himself. Dedicated "to the victims of fascism and war", the Norwegian formation played it by heart (and it was the first time that it did without the score), merit at all minor, as did the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra a few weeks ago at the Gothenburg Point Festival. That version was more distressing, with all the musicians facing the public and staring at him, but the Ensemble Allegria had the essential doses of fierceness, helplessness, courage and expressive intensity. And the end was, as the music cries out, the apotheosis of desolation. The festival began with a blow on the jugular: a reminder that what awaited us would not be, much less, a path of roses.
The Danel Quartet has carved a name thanks fundamentally to its frequent complete cycles of Shostakovich's full quartet production, which they have played on up to 29 occasions in numerous cities and festivals. Here they have played three, numbers 4, 5 and 13, confirming that they are a reference interpreter of this repertoire. Someone has defined in Rosendal these days his way of playing as "pragmatic", and it is not bad adjective for, with a single word, not only to summarize what his attitude is on the stage, but also to characterize the type of scalpel they prefer to use when entering the fifteen string quartets of the Soviet composer: they avoid any excess, they are extremely sober in their gestures and seem not to take sides with any of the factions that have been contending for years in the so-called “Shostakovich wars”, although it is , of course, of a false appearance. What really happens is that its interpretation does delve into the mystery of music, its contradictions and complexities, but leave the resolution of the riddles in the hands of listeners. In the technical aspect, they perfectly dominate the sound expression of the two-way counterpoint, of the rare textures or of the accompanied melody, all of them decisive elements of Shostakovich's quartetic language. On Saturday morning, at the concert that Igor Levit should have played, his Quartet No. 5 It was so applauded that they offered an off-program piece, the only tip heard here these days: Improvisation and Romanza by Mieczysław Weinberg, discovered and released by themselves last year at the Zaubersee Festival.
One of the great moments of these days has been, without any doubt, the screening on Friday night of the film New Babylon (1929), by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg, carefully restored by Marek Pytel and with the recovery of the original piano music composed by Dmitri Shostakovich, a regular of film music especially in his youth. The latter interpreted it, with a surprisingly perfect synchronization with the images, the Ukrainian pianist Sasha Grynyuk, who amazed all attendees and who took one of the longest, sincere and enthusiastic applause of these days. While playing in a single moment for more than an hour and a half, Grynyuk adhered to and brilliantly shaped the two principles that, according to Shostakovich himself, had guided his work: that of obligatory enlightenment (music reveals the true intimate meaning of the images) and the one of the contrasts (the music contradicts what we see on stage). Full of quotes, always so dear to the composer, at times vulgar, sometimes deep, polystyilistic and always linked to the visual wonders worked by Kozintsev and Trauberg, watching the film with the music played live was an essential aesthetic experience to complement the image of the composer who were drawing the rest of the concerts.
Of the various works of Aleksandr Vustin scheduled, the originality of Zaitsev's letter, a royal letter from a prisoner in which he denounced the inhuman conditions of the Russian prison system. Read and sung frantically by a tenor (magnificent Christophe Poncet de Solages), Vustin weaves around him a dense instrumental accompaniment for string and percussion that also advances without resounding until the last note. Very helped by the enormous quality of the interpretation, two funeral works also made an excellent impression: their Lament for piano solo, played by Leif Ove Andsnes, and In memoriam Grigori Fried, for viola and piano, served by Tabea Zimmermann and Marianna Shirinyan. When he came out to greet, Vustin's face was astonished: it is difficult for me to hear them better interpreted again. Verify the quality and variety of Vustin's music (whose opera The devil in love It was released this year in Moscow by Vladimir Jurowski three decades after its completion) it reminds us of two things: how little we know of the music that was made in Russia after the death of Shostakovich and how alive are the consequences of the fierce persecution of that many creators were subjected by the Soviet regime.
Other highlights of these days have almost always been linked to the conjunction of great works entrusted to great performers. At the head could perhaps be the last work heard on Saturday night: the testamentary, and almost terminal, Viola Sonata of Shostakovich, immortalized in the homonymous film by Aleksandr Sokúrov. It was performed by two giants of their respective instruments: Tabea Zimmermann and Leif Ove Andsnes. With extreme sobriety, granting meaning, depth, pain and truthfulness to each note, to each silence, the complicity between the two is so great that one can only wish that it is possible to listen to them regularly also outside Rosendal (Zimmermann was already here in 2017). In that same concert, Anthony McGill (clarinet soloist of the New York Philharmonic), violinist Marc Denel and Marc-André Hamelin gave voice to the music of Galina Ustvólskaya, one of the women who should have approached the private Shostakovich. its Trio It is a small masterpiece, cited even by his friend in one of his quartets. If the stylistic debt is here fraternal, in the Quintet with piano Alfred Schnittke is rather paternofilial. We heard it interpreted on Friday in such an exceptional version (with the Danel Quartet and Leif Ove Andsnes) like the one that would sound the day after Quintet with piano Shostakovich himself, in which the luxury trio integrated by Tabea Zimmermann, Clemens Hagen and the prodigious Marc-André Hamelin, who each and every one of his appearances have claimed as a pianist, and a musician, of authentic exception.
The two concerts on Sunday were the true climax of these four days of enormous emotional intensity. The morning program should be taught to many organizers as an example of good practice, since the four works contained, explicitly or implicitly, references to Jewish popular music: Overture on Hebrew issues from Prokofiev and Two Sketches on Hebrew topics of Aleksandr Klein accompanied the Quartet No. 4 and to one of the undisputed masterpieces of Shostakovich: the Trio with piano no. two. The four knew formidable versions, but the one that struck the public the most was the last, which contains a funeral lament for the death of a close friend of the composer, Iván Sollertinski, written in the form of passacaglia. Leif Ove Andsnes at the piano and Clemens Hagen at the cello were the best imaginable performers of the piano and cello parts. It was not at his level (within the reach of few mortals, everything must be said) Veriko Tchumburidze, a violinist still little experienced as a cameraman and, as such, too absorbed in his score, without that permanent and mutually enriching communication path that existed between Andsnes and Hagen. The ability of Shostakovich's music to impact his listeners, leaving them plunged into a sea of uncertainties, was here perhaps more evident than ever.
The closing concert was once again another model, as it contrasted the figures of Igor Stravinsky and Dmitri Shostakovich, two contemporaries whose lives ran in parallel, without crossing, in the heat of the Soviet regime and far from it. Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin played the Concert for two pianos of the first followed by a reduction, also for two pianos, of Allegro of the Tenth Symphony from the second: the neoclassical order in the face of a mad race to nowhere that the two pianists translated with a virtuosity and a sharp rhythmic sense of pure sharpness. The prodigy unleashed the enthusiasm of the public and gave rise to the second tip of the festival: the Circus Polka Stravinsky, a reminder that it is possible to find communicating pathways (humor) between these two giants of Russian music. And concert and festival came to an end in the only way possible: with a transcription for piano and percussion trio (a paragon of intelligence and musical wisdom by its architect, Viktor Dervianko) of the Symphony No. fifteen of Shostakovich, the most intimate perhaps of its orchestral pages, a music that is guessed so private, so populated with keys whose meaning was only within the reach of its author, that upon hearing it, and more in this chamber rereading, one feels almost a intruder, peeking secrets and confessions that, in fact, he is not authorized to hear. The performance was extraordinary, again with Clemens Hagen giving lessons of very high musicality, very well wrapped by Sonoko Miriam Welde on the violin, Marianna Shirinyan on the piano (who had to prepare the time trial work to replace Igor Levit), the PERCelleh percussion duo (which had already shown frequent signs of virtuosity in previous days) and percussionist Christian Krogvold Lundqvist. The last bars of the Symphony, originally written for percussion and glockenspiel, as they sounded here, are a kind of delicate evaporation until this cluster of delicate sounds dissolves into a silence whose meaning, again, could only be known by Shostakovich himself. Like it had happened in the Trio No. two, or in the Quartet No. 8, the deep imprint that this music had left in the public was noticeable, for which, at this point, the Soviet musician was already an almost familiar figure, although, of course, as elusive and complex as at the beginning.
The Rosendal festival attracts more and more interest among foreigners, although Norwegians continue to constitute the bulk of the public. If there is an award, this year should be awarded to three enthusiastic Australian fans who have expressly made the long journey from their country to enjoy these four intense days of music and nature. If the thesis that Shostakovich's music has a healing capacity is true (as Stephen Johnson explains so well in his recent and courageous essay How Shostakovich changed my mind), even more so if you enjoy the privilege of hearing it interpreted in the paradise of Rosendal, we have all left here much better than we arrived. Who else who less, we all have also crossed some border.
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