Contrary to many of their gay contemporaries, both Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952) and Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) were fairly open about their sexual orientations. Does one’s sexuality affect the reception or quality of one’s music? Indeed not. Yet as evidenced in this dazzling concert, it does make one aware that they existed – with all their creative ideas and extraordinary stories coupled with their faults and flaws. A handful of gifted Davos Festival students offered a highly memorable performance that paid tribute to the achievements of both composers.

Dominic Chamot, Mathis Rochat
© Davos Festival | Yannick Andrea

The hour's hike to the concert venue at the historic Hotel Schatzalp, a beautifully restored building high above the village of Davos, proved its own enrichment. The path, which commemorates novelist Thomas Mann’s tribute to Davos in The Magic Mountain, gives space for pause and contemplation in a quiet forest landscape, making the perfect beginning to an afternoon’s musical programme. 

Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid (1951) highlighted the talents of oboist Amanda Taurina and saxophonist Amit Dubester. The six short pieces revolve around attributes of Greek gods and goddesses. For Pan, the messenger god, Dubester stood with his legs akimbo, raising his sax high in the air on the last musical “message” he sent. The Bacchus interval featured a playful and humorous exchange over the god of wine. Narcissus’s love of his own image was first sweetened in Britten's music then made morose, while for Arethusa, goddess of fountains, both musicians’ cascades of notes rang true to her nature.  

A cycle of five Bosmans shorts featuring mezzo-soprano Isabel Pfefferkorn and pianist Dominic Chamot followed. In each song, the vocalist mastered unexpected intervals as if they were easy, while the pianist gave powerful heft to the intricate arrangements. In Le diable dans le nuit, the two ably shook us listeners into a veritable state of fear. Commendably though, the bridges from dark into light were later spanned gracefully, and the contrasts between the sweet and the grave were beautifully mastered.

The enigmatic Lachrymae for viola and piano (1950) was performed here by Mathis Rochat and Amadeus Wiesensee, who showed the triumph of Britten’s unpredictable, unexpected timing and carefully arranged dissonances. The piece breaks suddenly from the innocent into the bombastic and can be quite haunting. It was given superb delivery throughout, and near its end there were even glimpses of a lullaby-like resolution.

Finally, Bosmans’s String Quartet (1928) was played with fine insight by the Chaos String Quartet. First violinist Susanne Schäffer used her whole body to convey clear direction, while in the Allegro molto moderato, after a dreamy beginning, cellist Bas Jongen also offered a bright beacon for the others to follow. The tragic theme that launched the Lento would be well suited to a dramatic movie score, while the Allegro molto carried such energy as to recall a whole cavalry underway. Striking too was that the title of the concert, “Glitter and Be Gay!”, had been taken to heart: two of the players wore garments whose metallic fabrics glittered to the heart’s delight.