After the dust had cleared from the fifth Verão Clássico Festival e Academia, when the fourteen great "professores" and their more than 200 greatly-talented young students, many on their way to professional careers, had packed up their instruments and returned to their homes in Portugal and across the globe, the most enduring image was of Pascal Moraguès and Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro playing Schumann's Fantasy Pieces Op.73 at the fourth and last MasterFest concert.

Pascal Moraguès and Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro © Rita Carmo
Pascal Moraguès and Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro
© Rita Carmo

Bookended by a sleek, powerful Brahms Piano Quintet and an almost persuasive performance of an obscure Mozart remix, the great French clarinetist's liquid phrasing and dynamic range, from full-throated ecstasy to sublime pianissimo, was produced so naturally that it took the audience's collective breath away; in ten brief minutes it characterized the bonds of professional and personal friendships that made the ten-day festival an endearing experience for all involved.

Pinto-Ribeiro was the perfect Schumann pianist throughout, the music bubbling from his piano clear and refreshing as a mountain spring, his notes voiced delicately like sensitive jewels. Moraguès adorned the pure sound of his instrument with gentle flashes of color, turning the central section of the second movement into a noble paean to nature. As he does when his spirit is most honestly invoked, Schumann spoke directly through Moraguès and Pinto-Ribeiro, allowing the two musicians to reveal the dimensions of their own love for music.

The concert had begun with Brahms that was Olympian in its pure lines and immaculate beauty. Eldar Nebolsin was incomparably reflective in the opening Allegro non troppo, the return to the theme was regal and proud, and Gary Hoffmann's solos soared like eagles. At the end, Jack Liebeck and Corey Cerovsek were ethereal in their duet, and Hoffman sublime in his restrained elegance. They captured the intricacies of the Scherzo with psychedelic precision before singing the theme with full-throated joy. The fugue initiated by the viola and piano unleashed tight, incisive energy while Nebolsin almost jumped off the piano bench as he launched into the Trio with a rich sound. His exquisite phrasing of the the introduction to the last movement, with a slight hesitation and then an affectionate appoggiature, set off the five players on a mad if controlled whirlwind of passion and desire.

The concert ended with a curiosity that seemed at first like a monstrosity and gradually morphed, through the offices of Mozart's cornucopia of melody and the committed playing of the great musicians, to resemble something almost convincingly if certainly not genuinely Mozartian. It was Christoph Friedrich Gottlieb Schwencke's early 19th-century arrangement of Mozart's Gran Partita K.361, originally composed for 12 winds and double bass, which Schwencke turned into a serenade for oboe quartet which the Verão Clássico crew then supplemented with double bass for added warmth and increased low end presence.

The "Gran Partita" ensemble © Rita Carmo
The "Gran Partita" ensemble
© Rita Carmo

Schwencke, who studied with and then succeeded his teacher CPE Bach as director of church music in Hamburg, made a cottage industry of providing Mozart in arrangements that could safely be taken home to mother. But even skeptics would have agreed that if anyone could pull this off it would have to be led by an oboist the calibre of Nicholas Daniel, and that any ensemble with Berlin Philharmonic principal bass Janne Saksala in their midst would automatically be required listening. Not to mention that Pinto-Ribeiro showed himself to be a genuine Mozart pianist, continually alive to the music's unalloyed pleasures and improvising ornaments along with Daniel in a most seductive manner. Daniel and Adrian Brendel were also joys to watch, the former with his expressive face and sweeping loose-limbed movements, and Daniel in his white suit like a naval captain's uniform (how appropriate for Lisbon!) contrasting with his many red-faced heroics.

In Schwencke's smaller format, K.361 moved more nimbly than the ponderous original; only Daniel and Saksala would have played the music before, so it had to be fresh for the others and sounded as such. The musicians' ability to maintain the pretense that this was a reasonable facsimile of K.361 rarely flagged. And whenever Daniel led the charge, it actually sounded like a wind band. The second Trio of the first Menuetto sort of worked, like a hurdy-gurdy, and the end of the second Menuetto was like couples falling in love. In the first Adagio Daniel was exquisite while Pinto-Ribeiro at his piano was obviously pleased as punch to be providing perfect pulse, phrasing and pacing. In The Tema con variazioni, Brendel and Saksala teased Mozart and the audience with little improvised musical snippets, Pinto-Ribeiro's rolling trills were marvelous, and Daniel's last oboe solo was deeply moving. Only in the final movement did it occasionally sound totally silly. Overall, it was an experience not have been missed, if perhaps not to be repeated.

*****