Heatwave Fails to Deter Musicians at Dante’s Festival

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Brahms, Schubert: Dante Quartet [Krysia Osostowicz & Giles Francis (violins), Rachel Roberts (viola) & Richard Jenkinson (cello)] Angela Garcia (viola), Dante Festival Orchestra, St Paul’s Church, Yelverton, 11.7.2013 (PRB)

Brahms: Hungarian Dance No 3 in G minor
Schubert:Quartet in A minor, ‘Rosamunde’, D 804
Rondo in A for Violin & String Orchestra, D 438
Brahms: String Quintet in G, Op 111

Dante Festival Orchestra (credit Philip R Buttall)
Dante Festival Orchestra (credit Philip R Buttall)

Taking its name from the river which separates the two most westerly counties in South West England, Devon and Cornwall, the Tamar Valley might just seem an unlikely venue for one of the UK’s top string quartets to present an annual summer festival, but the London-based Dante Quartet has given an outstanding programme of concerts, open rehearsals and workshops in the area since 2004 and this has, in fact, now become one of the highlights of the Dante’s year.

The closing concert of the 2013 Festival returned once more to Yelverton, a large village some ten miles north of Plymouth, on the south-western edge of Dartmoor. However, unlike last year’s event where, almost to the day we were enduring ‘unseasonal weather’ for the time of the year, today’s concert was on the hottest day of the year so far.

This had its own unfortunate repercussions, not only with regards instruments’ tuning, but also in seemingly bringing everyone out onto the moorland roads, where animals can sometimes freely roam, and which yesterday virtually closed the main road from Plymouth due to two separate accidents, with an obvious knock-on effect for the afternoon concert’s slightly delayed starting time.

A second difference on this particular year’s concert, was that the Dante Quartet was now joined by the Dante Festival Orchestra – a specially-convened string orchestra formed some seven years ago, which includes children and students who meet with the Dantes for a series of rehearsals prior to the event each year.

What is immediately striking about the orchestra is not only the age range – here from nine to eighteen – or their range of abilities, but more so their different academic backgrounds. Youngsters from local Community Colleges and Primary Schools, Grammar and Prep Schools as well as those from some leading London establishments play side by side as an homogenous whole, benefitting both their musical as well as social development.

Emphasizing the strong sense of familial atmosphere, three siblings from one local family play together in the orchestra, while Dante leader and Festival’s Artistic Director, Krysia Osostowicz’s daughter plays in the viola section, her seventeen-year-old brother putting his horn aside this year, to help with stage management and sound recording.

It was therefore especially apt that a spirited and well-coordinated performance of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No 3 should get this year’s final event – entitled ‘Schubert Meets Brahms’ – off to a fine start. From the listeners’ perspective, not only was it good to have the individual members of the Dante Quartet playing in the ensemble, but even more rewarding to see as they watched over and immediately helped out anyone who might temporarily have lost their direction – a truly fulfilling experience for both parties, yet with everyone still clearly having a ball in the process.

Events like this involve so many people and Osostowicz, in introducing the programme, made sure no one was omitted, while selflessly dedicating the afternoon’s concert to the memory of the late Bryan Foster, a great local supporter of the arts in general, and chamber music in particular, who sadly passed away last year.

There is absolutely no doubt that he would have approved immensely of Schubert’s Rosamunde Quartet, receiving a superb performance by the Dante in less than ideal circumstances, given the heat and its adverse effect on tuning. Here was a poised and well-studied reading which finely captured the work’s essential arguments – longing and foreboding, sadness and hope. From the pathos of the first movement, the serenity of the second, the soberness of the minuet to the rustic finale’s eventually cheerful conclusion, the Dante were at one with the composer’s intentions, and nowhere more so in his insistence on hushed dynamics on so many occasions.

Displaying her immense versatility as both soloist and quartet-leader, Osostowicz directed the orchestra from the front in a particularly high-spirited reading of Schubert’s Rondo in A for Violin and Strings, where, even if the none-too-easy-to-maintain ensemble between soloist and orchestra might occasionally have been tested, everyone appeared to play with confidence and sufficient panache to ensure the overall success of the performance.

All good things come to an end – even a five-day-long treat essentially of chamber music – so there could hardly have been a better work to bring things to a conclusion this year, than Brahms’s Quintet in G, which he originally intended to be his farewell to composing and thus ensured that that he would go out on a high. In reality, though, a few more masterpieces followed on, but the work always held a special place in his heart.

Joining the quartet was Spanish-born violist, Angela Garcia, herself a postgraduate student of the Dante Quartet’s viola-player, Rachel Roberts at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and the pure empathy between student and teacher was nowhere more evident than in the opening movement’s second subject.

Notwithstanding the well-documented dynamic problems with the work’s opening bars, where the cello starts in its low register, against a loud and bright accompaniment from the upper strings, and which the Dantes overcame with great assurance, this performance truly belied the fact that all players had had a tremendously busy last few days, to say nothing of today’s earlier offerings, and all during a rare and obviously physically-draining heat-wave. Given all this, the work’s Gypsy-like conclusion couldn’t have rounded everything off to greater perfection, or with such an unbridled sense of pure abandon.

Philip R Buttall