Preview of the Pontino Festival Italy – July, 2011

22/06/2011

Preview of the Pontino Festival, Italy: 1. – 30.7.2011 (JB)

Sermoneta (Latina), 17 Luglio 2001. Panorama della cittadina con il Castello Caetani. Foto di Enrico Para. Copyright 2001.


There is something fairytale-Gothic in that first sight of Sermoneta, stretching proudly skywards, some seventy kilometres south of Rome, out of the former Pontine marshlands and crowned by the unexpected, noble Caetani castle. Every year, it is home to some of the world’s most gifted young musicians who attend Italy’s best-organised master classes. They do everything together here: eat, sleep and learn, all under  the watchful eye of the distinguished architect, Riccardo Cerocchi, and his outstanding team of performers and teachers. The centre of this intensive activity is the Caetani castle itself, transformed for accommodation, teaching, performing and dining. There is round-the-clock activity. The very walls speak music.

All the courses take place in July with Alessandro Solbiati for composition (2-15), Elissò Virsaladze – piano (4-10), Natalia Gutman – chamber music (5-8), Rocco Filippini – cello and chamber music (7-18), Franco Petracchi – double bass and director of the courses (11-23), Mirela Vedeva – double bass (11-23), Bruno Giuranna – viola (12-21), Peter-Lukas Graf – flute (18-25), Mariana Sirbu – violin (18-27) and Ursula Holliger – harp (22-27).

The festival opens with a homage to Liszt and his influence on today’s’ music (1-3 July), with a concert on the 1st by the Divertimento Ensemble, conducted by Sandro Gorli, and recitals by pianist, Maria Grazia Bellocchio (12:30 on 2 July) and Roberto Prosseda (21:00 on 2 July).  The celebrations end with an all-Liszt recital from Elissò Virsaladze in the beautifully restored monastic infirmary of the Fossanova Abbey (3 July at 19.30).

On Saturday 9 July at the Caetani Castle, at 21:00, there will be a recital of the duo, Natalia Gutman (cello) and Elissò Virsaladze (piano) with two of the Beethoven sonatas for cello and piano; the duo will be joined by two violinists and a violist from the courses for the Schumann piano quintet.

I will not myself want to miss the end-of-course recital of the Virsaladze pupils, scheduled for Sunday, 10 July (time to be announced).

Franco Petracchi assures me that Bottesini’s String Quintet is one of the nineteenth century’s shamefully neglected masterpieces. You can catch up with it on 16 July at the Castle of Sermoneta at 21:00, where the programme is completed with Schubert’s string trio in B flat in one movement and Beethoven’s Serenade op. 8 for string trio.

I am delighted to see that the Bottesini Quintet will include Vaughan Williams’ enchanting c minor quintet, which his widow brought to light just before she died. That programme will be completed by another rarity, the quintet op. 31 no. 2 of Louise Farrenc – at the Fossanova restored infirmary on Sunday 17 July at 19:30.

All who hear the chamber music of Louise Farrenc (1804-1815) are puzzled as to why these pieces never found their way into the repertory. There are various reasons for this. Farrenc was an acclaimed pianist, applauded by Schumann and others; she was also the first woman to rise to the rank of chief piano teacher at the Paris conservatory. Her husband, a flautist, was also a music publisher, which was some help to Louise. Charming though her piano pieces are, received opinion holds her chamber music highest. She wrote no opera. This was at a time when all known French composers were known through their operas, then only incidentally for other works. The Festival of Pontino does us a great favour in presenting this work.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) was self-critical of his work to the point of neurosis.  He wrote the c minor quintet in 1903, revising it in 1904 and 1905. In December of 1907, he went to Paris for three months’ intensive study with Ravel, who complimented him by saying: Thank heavens I’ve found a gifted pupil who doesn’t attempt to write music like me. Upon RVW’s return from the War in 1918, his lack of self-confidence reasserted itself and he withdrew a good number of early works including this quintet. (It has the same instrumentation as Schubert’s Trout: violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano.) Music lovers had to wait until 1999, when Ursula, his widow, lifted the ban on this piece.

In 2007, Chandos issued a recording of the quintet with the Schubert Ensemble, whose pianist is William Howard. That reconnects us with Sermoneta, for William’s uncle married the late Princess Caetani. William is not the pianist on 17 July, but the stones of Fossanova will no doubt breath in recognition of music in the family. That is one of the main pleasures of the Pontino Festival.

Further information on the Festival Pontino at www.campusmusica.it tel (+39) 0773 605551.

Jack Buckley

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