While UK concert halls remain closed to the public, my armchair travels have carried me far and wide, from the Musikverein to the Metropolitan Opera. But few venues are quite as astonishing as La Grange au Lac, Patrick Bouchain’s pine and red cedar hall nestled in Évian-les-Bains, overlooking Lake Geneva. From the outside, it looks like an ample Russian dacha, aptly given that the first artistic director of its chamber music festival was Mstislav Rostropovich. But the wooden interior is stunning, the stage wrapped by rows of silver birch trees, above which hang six Murano crystal chandeliers.

Quatuor Modigliani and Gautier Capuçon © Rencontres Musicales d’Évian
Quatuor Modigliani and Gautier Capuçon
© Rencontres Musicales d’Évian

The Rencontres Musicales d’Évian has had to reinvent itself this season, offering six evenings of chamber music played to an audience restricted to just 150 people, but streamed around the globe. Since the festival relaunched in 2014, it has been under the artistic co-direction of the Paris-based Quatuor Modigliani, who were joined by some very special guests for an evening of Schubert. The recital’s two quintets acted as the perfect foil to each other. For all that the Trout Quintet is limpid streams and pastoral fun, the String Quintet in C major, one of Schubert’s final works, is one of the most profound of musical utterances. 

Quatuor Modigliani, Bertrand Chamayou and Yann Dubost © Rencontres Musicales d’Évian
Quatuor Modigliani, Bertrand Chamayou and Yann Dubost
© Rencontres Musicales d’Évian

For the Trout, the Modigliani were joined by pianist Bertrand Chamayou and Yann Dubost, principal double bass of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. There was a convivial sense of atmosphere, appropriate considering Schubert wrote his quintet for Sylvester Paumgartner, amateur cellist and the composer's holiday host in Steyr, Upper Austria. Chamayou’s fluidity and delicate opening flourish set the sparkling tone, the pianist keeping a watchful eye on his colleagues. 

The sweet violin of Amaury Coeytaux coaxed a gentle sense of reverie in the Andante before a particularly aggressive Scherzo, cello and bass tucking greedily into the sforzando markings. Dubost was having the best time of all, wearing a big smile, particularly during the third of the variations on Die Forelle – Paumgartner’s favourite Schubert Lied – where the double bass briefly gets the melody. Chamayou’s piano ripples didn’t break the surface too roughly; I like to think that in this non-vocal version of the song the cunning angler doesn’t manage to outwit his piscine prey. Although Die Forelle is only the basis for that one movement, its lyrical and pictorial qualities infuse the entire quintet and the finale was especially genial, gleaming with French polish. 

François Kieffer and Gautier Capuçon © Rencontres Musicales d’Évian
François Kieffer and Gautier Capuçon
© Rencontres Musicales d’Évian

Where Mozart had employed two violas in his string quintets, Schubert opted for a second cello instead, resulting in a work of remarkably rich sonority. The Modigliani’s guest cellist was none other than satin-toned Gautier Capuçon, fresh from his own Évian recital the evening before. The level of concentration and communication between the players was palpable; you could almost hear them listening to each other. The opening movement is a weighty 20 minutes – heavenly length indeed – and François Kieffer and Capuçon revelled in the melting second theme where the two cellos soar above the viola’s bass line. Capuçon effectively conducted the Adagio, his bow circling after each tolling pizzicato. Time stood still in this haunting lament until the passionate central outburst, but it was the Trio, a moment of sombre introspection in the rosiny aggression of the stomping Scherzo, which struck hardest; it is for me the heart of the work. After such pain, the finale came as a welcome release, its Hungarian dance feel bringing us back to the bucolic world of the Trout to bring a very fine recital to a satisfying close.

This performance was reviewed from the video live stream.