Last week I wrote about an effort to subvert the time-honoured conventions of traditional concert-giving. This week we resume normality with the Bath Mozartfest: a straitlaced chamber music festival that focuses on classic repertoire done by the book – and with no reason to do otherwise because it’s an impressively successful venture neither broken nor in need of fixing.
What I heard there involved three contrasting pianists. Easily the youngest was Pavel Kolesnikov, a slightly built Siberian of serious demeanour whose career has flourished since he became one of the BBC’s New Generation Artists. Here, he shared a platform with two other NGAs but stole the show with brilliantly mercurial musicianship.
Pianist No 2 was fortepianist Ronald Brautigam, who joined a period-style ensemble, Chiaroscuro, playing Schumann. Chiaroscuro were a disappointment: when you do this repertoire without vibrato you need better intonation than they managed and a less scrawny sound. But Brautigam was bright and interesting, and saved the evening.
Pianist No 3, though, was the master: András Schiff. I sometimes think he comes with too much gravitas to be exciting, and his Bach here – the D Minor English Suite – felt over-cultivated. But there’s no denying his authority. And I enjoyed his Brahms, which came in spacious readings, going with the flow of music that tends not to be contained by bar-lines. Very pukka, very Bath.
Perhaps the best thing about Alfred Hitchcock’s famous adaptation of the Winston Graham psycho-thriller Marnie was the Bernard Herrmann score. So it was brave of Nico Muhly, current darling of American contemporary music, to step forward with an operatic version of the story which has just been premiered at ENO.
Marnie – he keeps the name – is Muhly’s third attempt at opera and a cleaner, more transparent piece of storytelling than his first, the glamorous mess that was Two Boys. But musically it’s less adventurous: a barely questioning retreat into the soundworld of a previous generation, Steve Reich and John Adams. That admirers call him post-minimal eclectic is inaccurate: there’s nothing “post” about it.
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