This summer, the Davos Festival's motto “Aequalis” celebrates equality and visibility. This applies both to gifted male and female players from around the world and to the composers whose works they are performing. “Aequalis” underscores the equal status of the sexes in the most poignant musical forms. In the words of artistic director Marco Amherd, this season’s intent is “to raise awareness of the social current and illuminate it musically".

Davos, Switzerland
© Sarah Batschelet

The concert entitled “Feeling Good?” was staged in a small sanctuary dating from 1668-69 that overlooks the modest alpine community of Monstein, some ten kilometers from Davos itself. The greater part of the audience enjoyed a two-hour guided hike up the mountain from the valley below, arriving in the church just as the Chaos String Quartet began their performance. Players Susanne Schäffer, Eszter Kruchió, Sara Marzadori and Bas Jongen launched the concert with Henry Purcell’s Chacony in G minor, a short work that dates to around 1680. It is marked by delightful vigor that almost makes an invitation to dance. We know little about what prompted the work's composition, nor why Purcell called it a chacony rather than a chaconne, the common French title for a piece written over a repeating bass line. In any case, it exemplifies the Baroque mastery of variations that grow in their magic with each repetition of the same eight-measure phrase.

Isabel Pfefferkorn
© Davos Festival | Yannick Andrea

Continuing with Purcell, gifted mezzo-soprano Isabel Pfefferkorn joined the players in “One charming night” from The Fairy Queen, a work based on an anonymous version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Close your eyes and the five young musicians’ rendition was just that dream: Pfefferkorn’s voice was mellifluous as fine honey, and the strings that supported her were nothing short of sublime. Later in the programme, Pfefferkorn's rendition of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” showed her excellence in another genre. Her sultry, dark and sensual interpretation gave the song expanded definition.

Chaos String Quartet
© Davos Festival | Yannick Andrea

Franz Schubert’s String Quartet in C minor "Quartettsatz" highlighted first violin Susanne Schäffer’s extraordinary gift for precision and direction and Claude Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor featured a whole universe of sounds. The musical motifs were not only readily exchanged among the players with a degree of fine timing and syncopation that was thrilling, but the performance also featured distinct and skilful variations in volume throughout. The viola solo in the third movement and what was almost “digital sound” in the Andantino were challenges that were mastered unequivocally, as was the sense of accomplishment implicit in the cellist’s thrusting the neck of his instrument out toward the audience at the end of the piece.

Finally, Pfefferkorn sang Purcell’s “O Solitude, my sweetest choice", giving the audience a chance both to acknowledge her resonant middle voice and relish the clean single line of Bas Jongen’s cello, a lament that went under the skin. Overall, with repertoire of this quality, all of us in the audience left the concert in Monstein feeling better than good.