Wit its title loosely translating to “Profundity” (Tiefsinn), this concert’s combination of classical and modern repertoire might have made a difficult marriage. On the contrary, the young Davos Festival musicians gave a compelling mosaic of resonating sounds around the deepest realms of the human psyche and experience.

Davos Festival Chamber Choir © Yannick Andrea | Davos Festival (2019)
Davos Festival Chamber Choir
© Yannick Andrea | Davos Festival (2019)

The SIBJA Saxophone Quartet launched the evening with a short saxophone quartet by the contemporary Austrian composer, Georg Friedrich Haas. As a representative of so-called spectral music, Haas’ music is often characterised by tonal experiments, and strongly repetitive progressions. While the eyes of the four musicians seldom left the demanding score, the sounds they produced varied from the blustery, to the cosmic and the haunting, such that finding patterns inherent to each voice was a truly riveting engagement with the Modern. 

Backtracking a mere 289 years, the programme took us next back to 1725, and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Ich hab’ in Gottes Herz und Sinn. The Davos Festival Chamber Choir (directed by Andreas Felber), soloists and chamber musicians of the Cardinal Complex under the direction of cembalist Matías Lanz gave an inspired performance. The soloists (soprano Larissa Bretscher, contralto Antonia Frey, tenor Zacharie Fogal and bass Daniel Pérez) carried their parts with confidence and aplomb, the soprano aria, “Meinem Hirten bleib ich treu”, with its stunning oboe accompaniment by Miriam Jorde Hompanera, being particularly moving.  

German Composer Bernd Franke’s On the dignity of man (2004/2005) again featured the SIBJA Saxophone Quartet and the Davos Festival Chamber Choir. While the piece interlocks and links the choir sections with five short saxophone sequences, the singers and brass players are seldom heard together. Each, namely, has its own tonal space. Citing the composer, the saxophone quartet is the more “earthy” of the two, more energetic, more concentrated in its rhythmic and melodic structure, and on occasion, even tango-like in its syncopation. That said, the choir explored entirely new vocal landscapes and textures, making almost a peacock’s tail of all the voices’ many colours. Only in the final section did the chorus break out of its pattern and begin to shout like an irascible crowd, eventually speaking, then whispering in what sounded like a mesmerising Tower of Babel.

SIBJA Saxophone Quartet © Yannick Andrea | Davos Festival
SIBJA Saxophone Quartet
© Yannick Andrea | Davos Festival

In Lisa Streich’s Minerva (2018), Alex Jellici’s solo cello was more of a challenge to the audience for its striking otherness. Though the young Swedish composer’s work is imaginative and exceptionally diverse, not everyone could site Minerva as “musical;” its acoustical stretch and resonating string treatments encompass all order of scratch, pluck and surprise. That said, all the vast techniques and possibilities of the cello’s sound are given due; whether that be as two voices in counterpoint, a semblance of loneliness, a prism of various moods. And as a player, Jellici seemed perfectly at home with that sound system, despite his solo making his work the most unreservedly exposed. 

Georg Philipp Telemann’s Overture in B minor returned us to the 18th century, and was followed by Johann Sebastian Bach’s Auf, auf mein Herz und du, mein ganzer Sinn – again with SIBJA Saxophone Quartet – that concluded a demanding and multifaceted programme. Both the diversity and talents of the musicians were remarkable, none the least owing to Matías Lanz, for the Herculean task of conducting while simultaneously playing select scores’ cembalo parts, and to Andreas Felber, for his gifted direction of the choir.

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