A brilliant program of Britten, Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky, necessitated by a last-minute illness, held enthralled another Verão Clássico Festival e Academia full house in the Centro Cultural de Belém's audiophile Pequeno Auditorio.

Britten's <i>Phantasy Quartet</i> © Rita Carmo
Britten's Phantasy Quartet
© Rita Carmo

The evening began with the most unconventional piece, and certainly the most obscure, Britten's early Phantasy Quartet, written while he was an 18-year old student at the Royal College of Music; dedicated to Léon Goossens, it mines in part the English pastoral vein while reflecting the influence of Britten's teacher Frank Bridge's increasing interest in less conservative continental developments. Britten would remain fascinated by the oboe – witness his Six Metamorphoses after Ovid, Temporal Variations, Two Insect Pieces and, most sublime of all, the oboe duets in his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. The many-faceted 15-minute jewel could not have been given a more absorbing performance than the one by an ad hoc quartet featuring oboist Nicholas Daniel, who in 2017 had recorded the Quartet with his own Britten Oboe Quartet. Also on board were violinist Jack Liebeck, cellist Adrian Brendel and the young Swiss-French violist Mathis Rochat, a prize-winning participant in this year's Academia. In the short rehearsal time which often lend urgency to the most wonderful festivals, the musicians put the intricate piece together precisely without losing its English soul, and they let the symmetrical ending discover itself without any telegraphing.

After the concert, Rochat told me that the piece was "a lot fun to put together with such great musicians," while admitting that he had to be "very focused during the rehearsal in order to feel spontaneous in the concert." In fact, Rochat exemplifies not only the sheer quality of the students but the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that has become essential for young professionals seeking a career.

Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro and Adrian Brendel © Rita Carmo
Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro and Adrian Brendel
© Rita Carmo

Britten's Quartet was followed by Shostakovich's Cello Sonata in D minor, composed just a year later but somehow ages apart. Who would have guessed that the two composers would form such a close personal and musical relationship nearly thirty years later? The performance was by two members of the DSCH Shostakovich Ensemble, a chamber music project based in Lisbon created by Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro in 2006. Sporting a new cello, Brendel, tall and angular, walking on stage holding his cello high like Piatigorsky, found the music's heart in its quiet, guarded intensity, playing occasionally to inaudibility, and studded by stunning breakout moments. The two played hand in glove with remarkably fluency, Ribeiro-Pinto always there with the line, having infectious fun with the madcap saloon music in the first Allegro, and proving the perfect foil for Brendel's virtuosic torrents of triplets in the second Allegro.

If, after intermission, Eldar Nebolsin, Corey Cerovsek (another member of the DSCH Ensemble) and Gary Hoffman did not completely answer the question of whether Tchaikovsky's vast sprawling Piano Trio in A minor is chamber music that wants to be a ballet score or vice versa, they brought the audience to its feet at the end with playing that was balanced so perfectly amidst the music's ebb and flow that its intoxicating beauties simply banished all doubts of whether the answer mattered.

Meanwhile, as a sign of the times, two young children in the audience played unobtrusively with an iPad. Perhaps next time they can come with paper and pencil for making notes or even writing poetry, as I did when my mother took me to concerts at their age; if, that is, their parents are not concerned about their becoming music critics when they grow up.


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