Évian's l’Hôtel Royal © Rencontres Musicales d'Évian
Évian's l’Hôtel Royal
© Rencontres Musicales d'Évian

This July, the spa town of Évian on the southern shores of Lake Geneva plays host to an extraordinary week of chamber music in a revival of its Rencontres Musicales festival. Established in 1976 and developed by cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, artistic director from 1985, the festival drew to a close in 2000. Last year, it was decided it was time to revive the festival, now under the artistic direction of the Modigliani Quartet, so this summer’s relaunch should be warmly anticipated. The idea of the festival is to gather soloists and chamber musicians together to form ad hoc performing groups – and which composer could be more apposite to such a convivial rationale than Franz Schubert? His music forms the musical backbone to this summer’s programme, which has a distinct feel of the Schubertiade about it.

La Grange au Lac © Rencontres Musicales d'Évian
La Grange au Lac
© Rencontres Musicales d'Évian

Both concert venues are very special. Évian’s La Grange au Lac (right), nestled in a park, is made entirely from red cedar and pine – part of Rostropovich’s inspiration was a Russian “dacha” – and has a stunning interior, seating 800. The smaller Théâtre du Casino, created by a student of Charles Garnier, plays host to five recitals.

The Modigliani Quartet has assembled a stellar guest-list. In a link to the festival’s past, for the opening recital they join forces with cellist Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, the last winner of the Rostropovich prize in his lifetime, for Schubert’s sublime String Quintet. Hecker also teams up with celebrated recital pairing of Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien for a trio programme of Schumann, Debussy and Schubert’s piano trios. Schubert’s lengthy E flat major trio was one of his last completed works, from November 1827, before his tragically early death.

The Modigliani doesn’t monopolize the quartet scene, inviting the Borodin Quartet for a recital which includes the famous String Quartet no. 2 by Borodin himself, along with Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, so called because the theme of the second movement is taken from his 1817 song setting of Matthias Claudius’ poem.

Mozart and Brahms are two composers who fell under the spell of the clarinet late in their compositional lives, inspired by clarinettists Anton Stadler and Richard Mühlfeld respectively. Sabine Meyer, one of today’s leading clarinettists, pairs Brahms’ autumnal Clarinet Trio with Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet.

Despite being dubbed “a pianistic Dostoyevsky” and “the greatest pianist alive” (International Piano, Sept/Oct 2006), Grigory Sokolov is hardly a household name, partly on account of his dislike of making studio recordings and his intense dislike of publicity and self-promotion. His all-Chopin programme of the Piano Sonata no. 3 and a selection of Mazurkas should be spellbinding.

Thoughts of snow and winter gloom might seem far away in July in the south of France, but the vocal recital of the festival promises to be Christoph Prégardien’s performance of Schubert’s Winterreise, accompanied by Michael Gees. In this cycle, composed in 1827, the wanderer steals away from the house of his beloved, aware that her love has strayed to a new sweetheart. As the cycle continues, he sings of his loneliness and longing for death. Prégardien’s Schubert is highly regarded and this should be an undoubted festival highlight.

Évian © Rencontres Musicales d'Évian
© Rencontres Musicales d'Évian

Star French violinist Renaud Capuçon teams up with violist Gérard Caussé and cellist Edgar Moreau for Schubert’s two string trios, while the spirit of the Schubertiade is never more alive than the celebrated line-up joining the Modigliani Quartet for a programme including Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet and Mendelssohn’s effervescent Octet, composed when he was a mere 16 years old.

In the spirit of working collaboratively, and in addition to the fine programme of recitals, there are also four masterclasses led by Gary Hoffmann, Alina Ibragimova, Gérard Caussé and the Modigliani Quartet.

Rencontres Musicales d'Évian is clearly a very special environment in which to make – and to experience – the finest chamber music collaborations. For full information, visit the festival’s website

This article is sponsored by Rencontres Musicales d'Évian Festival.