West Cork Comes To Dublin, at National Concert Hall, 28 March 2015

In late June every year, music lovers from across Ireland and beyond gather in Bantry for the West Cork Chamber Music Festival. Over the past 20 years it has earned a reputation as one of Europe’s finest music festivals, and to celebrate this anniversary the National Concert Hall hosts a day of concerts, West Cork-style, curated by Francis Humphrys, the festival’s founder and artistic director. The festival typically has several ensembles and solo performers in residence throughout its duration each year, which allows for events such as tonight’s main evening concert, featuring three sets of performers: the Vanbrugh Quartet, violinist Henning Kraggerud, and the Artis Quartet Vienna, all of them Bantry House veterans.

Playing first, the Vanbrugh Quartet (joined by violist Krzysztof Chorzelski) performs Mozart’s String Quintet No. 5 in D. From the work’s hushed opening, the ensemble establishes a smooth and straightforward approach. This is a serene and even-tempered work, far away from the anguished mood of Mozart’s previous, G minor, quintet, and the Vanbrughs respond with a charming and light even-handedness. The adagio movement features some fine lyrical playing but the piece really comes into its own in the brilliant, quicksilver writing of the finale. The ensemble responds with slick and jazzy playing.

After the classical restraint of the Mozart, the stage is cleared for Henning Kraggerud and pianist Paavali Jumppanen to play the Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor by Edvard Grieg. This darkly romantic work gets a powerfully charged performance by Kraggerud and Jumppanen. Kraggerud’s intense playing produces plenty of volume and drama and he is well-matched at the keyboard by Jumppanen, sensitively lyrical in the slow middle movement, and equally bold and rhythmic in the more expansive passages. They project the brilliantly fiery finale with superb power and energy, ending with a flourish made all the more dramatic as Kraggerud manages to snap his violin’s chin rest off in the final bar!

The real draw, however, comes in the second half, as the Artis Quartet (supplemented by star British cellist Natalie Clein) performs Schubert’s Quintet in C minor. This is a major work, played here with real class. The violins and viola of the Artis Quartet perform standing, as they would in a chamber orchestra, which looks good and is probably better for them too. Whether or not this affects the tone or concentration, the ensemble plays with dynamic precision, creating a richly integrated sound. The wide tonal and emotional range of the work is brought across beautifully, from the dream-like meditations of the opening movement to the intensity of the adagio.

The dances of the finale are played with elegance and also a wonderful looseness, suggesting an almost improvised feel, before the mad race to the finish line. The thunderous close brings the audience to its feet, and no wonder – a great performance.



Mozart: String Quintet in D major, K. 593

Grieg: Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op. 45

Schubert: String Quintet in C major, D.956