This year’s highly imaginative programming of the Davos Festival fosters those emerging talents under a festival theme of the human senses. While under strict observance of social distancing guidelines, the fifth concert of the 2020 season featured works by Schubert, Beethoven, Liszt and Danzi. The SIBJA Saxophone Quartet launched the evening with the Allegro of Franz Schubert’s String Quartet no. 14 in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”). Widely considered a pillar of the chamber music repertoire, the work was composed in 1824, four years prior to Schubert’s own demise, and features booming calls and exhortations, anxious questions and pensive quietude, in short, those sentiments of gloom and mourning we most often associate with death.

SIBJA Saxophone Quartet
© Davos Festival | Yannick Andrea

The choice seemed somewhat incongruous for the four young players themselves, none of whom appeared to be much over 30. Nonetheless, all mastered the movement’s pregnant pauses, sudden attacks, and nuances in volume that are the work’s hallmarks, rendering the surprises with tremendous gusto, even as they ranged from abrupt stops to fully supple and relaxed passages. The quartet did the Allegro a tremendous honor, the score’s subtleties, sometimes even measured or signaled by the player’s eyebrows.

Frederic Bager and Anton Spronk
© Davos Festival | Yannick Andrea

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 3 in A major, Op.69 featured cellist Anton Spronk and pianist Frederic Bager, who proved a stunning musical pair. Spronk was light-handed enough on the bow to make the end of the second movement feel like Grace itself had fallen over the hall, and Bager’s piano was polished and highly refreshing. At last year’s festival, he was one of the many pianists here to play five minutes to a single listener in the so-called “Box”, a small, glass-sided festival pavilion just big enough to house a featured pianist, a Bösendorfer, and a chair for the lucky listener. Bager showed himself gifted then, so it was sheer pleasure to hear him in a full-length piece this summer.

Chiara Opalio and Marlene Heiß
© Davos Festival | Yannick Andrea

Mythology was also made the headlines here. The concert programme featured Franz Liszt’s symphonic poem Prometheus – a wrenching reflection of imprisonment, pain, hope, and the final triumph of the mortal hero, who, in the Greek myth, is punished by Pallas Athena for his theft of fire from the gods. Prior to the concert, Marco Amherd, in his inaugural season as Festival Intendant, joined the festival’s philosopher-in-residence, Catherine Newmark, and pianist Marlene Heiss to consider the original Prometheus Myth’s poignancy, approach it from their two perspectives and expound on its relevance today. The discussion added a rich dimension to what followed: pianists Chiara Opalio and Marlene Heiss played a stellar four-handed version of the piece, underscoring the hero’s desperation with terrific pathos and insight. The adage “high drama” hardly holds a candle to its intensity, but highlights the fine talents of the “Young Artists in Concert” the festival attracts.

Amanda Taurina and Marie Boichard
© Davos Festival | Yannick Andrea

Last on the programme, Franz Danzi’s Piano Quintet in D minor began in a lyrical mode, but readily moved into something more riveting. At the piano, Bager shook and rolled his head as if in dialogue with the score. Gifted oboist Amanda Taurina also gave an expressive performance, using her whole body to substantiate nuances, and as such, lending a sculptural presence to the piece. Joë Christophe played a compelling clarinet; Marie Boichard, bassoon, and Ivo Dudler, horn. With spirits elevated, some of us in the audience were even guilty of tapping our feet.