Kempten International Chamber Music Festival: Allgäu, Bavaria, Germany

By Clark, Edward | Musical Opinion, January/February 2012 | Go to article overview

Kempten International Chamber Music Festival: Allgäu, Bavaria, Germany


Clark, Edward, Musical Opinion


"The town of Kempten (population 65,000) is one of the earliest settlements in Germany, Roman remains being discovered from 18-23 AD. The people of Kempten are gifted with a view of the foothills of the German/Austrian Alps a short distance away. It is a beautiful town with much history, but seems modern and contemporary in many ways. It possesses lots of facilities such as a Music School and a superb theatre that is the envy of any similar town in the world. It is no surprise that a spirit of adventure and local enterprise has produced an annual music festival, now in its sixth year. This came about after a lunch between Dr Franz Tröger, a local music lover and business man, and Oliver Triendl, a piano virtuoso of international repute. They immediately decided to launch a celebration of a different country's chamber music each year. Herr Triendl became Artistic Director and embarked on a voyage of discovery around Europe. 201 1 was the choice for Great Britain and the composer-in-residence was David Matthews, a natural choice given his extensive catalogue of vocal, instrumental and chamber music from which to select for the festival repertoire.

Herr Triendl invites world-class musicians to Kempten to rehearse and perform an amazing variety of works by familiar and unfamiliar composers. This year the choice was so eclectic that even Matthews confessed to not knowing many of them. And who can blame him when the list includes Meditation for double bass and piano by Alan Bush, the wind and string Octet by Howard Ferguson and Legende for violin and piano by Havergal Brian. Matthews and other lovers of British music are on safer ground with chamber works by Britten (only one!), Walton, Bax, Bridge, Hoist, Vaughan Williams and Elgar. Living composers were well represented with six works by Matthews (including a world premiere of Lebensregeln, eight songs to texts by Goethe) and other varied pieces by brother Colin, Peter Sculthorpe (as requested by Matthews for his Composer Choice concert), Matthew Taylor, James Francis Brown, George Benjamin, Hugh Wood and Thomas Hyde.

I still have not mentioned Byrd, Bliss, Warlock, Finzi, Onslow, Rebecca Clarke, Purcell, Gordon Jacob and Malcolm Arnold. Almost all the repertoire was new to the performers, who themselves are a mixture of orchestral concertmasters, section principals and chamber musician specialists from around Europe, many making return visits to Kempten. With such an extensive list of composers it was clear that, given the time available, there was no dominance by a small pool of 'great' composers. The aim of the festival was to embrace the wide cross section of British music to provide the audience with a genuine sense of exploration. There was a preponderance of early works by British masters. Hence we heard the lovely String Sextet (1906-12) by Bridge with its divine slow movement, as well as his utterly mature Cello Sonata (1913-17); the extraordinary Piano Quintet, including double bass (1903), by Vaughan Williams with its premonitions of the Tallis Fantasia and the later absorption of folk material; the highly melodic and confident Wind Quintet (1903) by Hoist and the teenage Walton attempting a big, ambitious Piano Quartet (1918-21, later revised in 1973-74). None of these are regularly played in the UK but all show signs of future greatness to come. For true greatness the festival ended with Elgar's masterly chamber swan song, the Piano Quintet (1918-19). Has it ever been played by a German pianist, with a quartet from Norway, Finland, France and Russia and with such feeling?

As well as the foothills of future masters the programme explored many works by familiar names, but of largely unfamiliar pieces, all of them worthy of the occasional hearing. …

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