An evening of first-rate music making at the Clandeboye Festival

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Clandeboye Festival 2023 [1] – Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven: Barry Douglas (piano), Cathal Breslin (piano), Richard Watkins (French horn), Dmitry Sitkovetsky (violin), Ed Creedon (viola), Aoife Magee (viola), Aoife Burke (cello). Clandeboye Estate, Bangor, Northern Ireland, 23.8.2023. (RB)

Barry Douglas


Schubert – Fantasia in F minor for Piano Duet, D940
Mozart – Horn Quintet in E-flat major, K407
Beethoven – Violin Sonata in E-flat major, Op.47 ‘Kreutzer’

The Clandeboye Festival is a small chamber music festival which takes place every year in the Clandeboye Estate which is just outside Bangor in Northern Ireland. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Music Without Borders’ which reflects both the power of music to transcend all barriers and the need to value our planet in these environmentally challenging times. I was delighted to see that the concert hall was packed out to capacity for this performance. It shows what an enormous appetite there is for classical music across Northern Ireland.

This concert opened with Schubert’s Fantasia in F minor for piano duet which was written in the last year of the composer’s short life. The work is divided into four interconnected movements which are played without a pause, and which mirror the traditional sonata movements. It represents a stylistic bridge between the traditional classical sonata and the free-form Romantic tone poem. Schubert’s earlier Wanderer Fantasy adopts the same structure. There was much to admire in this highly accomplished performance from Barry Douglas and Cathal Breslin. The haunting opening melody was played with crystalline clarity and had a rapt intensity. There was a muscularity to much of the playing in the ensuing section with the players working successfully to bring out the extreme contracts in the music. Both players brought impressive dynamic contrasts and rich and varied tone colours to the Largo second movement. The Scherzo was lively and bright and this contrasted beautifully with the delicacy of the trio. Both players allowed the layered fugal finale to build to an impressive climax with each new theme emerging seamlessly from the textures. Occasionally, the tone sounded a little forced in some of the fortissimo sections of the music although it is clearly right to bring big dynamic contrasts to this music.

The second work on this varied programme was Mozart’s Horn Quintet in E-flat which was written in 1782 for the Austrian horn player, Joseph Leutgeb, The quintet is unconventional in its scoring as Mozart opted for two violas rather than two violins within the string quartet. The use of an extra viola gives the music greater depth and sonority. Horn player, Richard Watkins, and the four string players worked well together to give a sparkling performance of this work. There was nice interplay between the horn and violin in the opening movement. All the string players showed a keen appreciation of Mozart’s cultivated classical style with their beautifully tapered phrases. The tempo was well judged in the Andante second movement which flowed elegantly and there was nice variation in textures. Richard Watkins showed his virtuoso credentials in the Rondo finale and helped to drive the work to a spirited conclusion.

The final work on the programme was Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata which the composer wrote in 1803. It is noted for its technical difficulty for both players, its unusual length and emotional scope. Barry Douglas and Dmitry Sitkovetsky joined forces to give a first-rate performance of this great staple of the repertoire. Sitkovetsky did an excellent job with the exposed double stopping in the introduction before both players launched into the minor key Presto section. There was excellent balance and coordination between the players with phrases being passed on and picked up in a seamless way. I was struck by the rough energy of some of the playing which underlined the sense of drive and conflict in this work. Douglas brought a sense of nobility and a luminous tone to the F major theme in the Andante second movement. The ensuing variations were all beautifully characterised and I was particularly struck by Douglas’s crisp and elegant articulation. The final galloping tarantella with its taut dotted rhythms was played with enormous energy and verve before both players joined forces one final time to drive the sonata to its conclusion.

This was an evening of first-rate music making – bravo to all the players!

Robert Beattie

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