It’s hard to imagine how, for an animated programme of world class music, there could be a more fitting background than Austria’s lush and wholly enchanting Bregenzerwald, a little piece of paradise that has made its reputation as a true “place apart” for the finest in musical interpretation and encounter. Indeed, it’s not surprising that the renowned Schubertiade – which alternates concert performances between two venues from June through September – celebrated its 40th jubilee last year.

© Schubertiade GmbH
© Schubertiade GmbH

The Dvořák and Schubert chamber recital featured musicians who seemed to have the kind of tonal synchronization one rarely hears when groups are configured in summer festival schedules. A superbly gifted concertmaster Baiba Skride cued and played demonstrably, setting the tone for what was a highly dynamic performance.

First on the programme was Antonin Dvořák’s String Quintet in G major, a piece that is testimony to the period in which the composer found his own, distinctive compositional style. Under the motto “For my nation”, Dvořák had entered this work for a competition held by the Umělecká beseda artists’ association, and ultimately won the first prize. The quintet has a pulsating beginning, and subsequently alternates buttery lightness with much thicker textures of sound.

Whereas the second movement underscored the simplest of melodies, the third movement betrayed an almost Brahmsian complexity. Almost ripe for a saccharin film score, its Romantic timbre gave the first violin a chance to shine unequivocally, and lead the configuration to a dream-like resolution. In the final movement, the gaiety of a folkloric theme was passed around among the players like a kind of celebration. This seemed a superbly “sociable” work, performed not only with astute cohesiveness, but as a piece full of colour and joie de vivre, right down to violist Veronika Hagen’s raised eyebrow and gleeful smile in exchange with the concertmaster.

Admittedly, Schubert's Octet in F major that followed – lasting close to an hour – is a much larger body of work. More than the Dvořák, too, the piece gives each of the players a chance to showcase their virtuoso solo skills. But for my take, it was not without its loose connections, and despite its frequent interlocution of musical themes among the players, it seemed less consummately woven than the Dvořák that preceded it. Nonetheless stunning, however, was the convincing portrayal of various musical moods that the piece brought to life.

Horn player Alejandro Núñez’s mastery of difficult intervals in the first movement was particularly commendable, but it was Paul Meyer’s clarinet that launched a lyrical convention in the Adagio, a theme soon assumed by the cantabile first violin. In the third movement, a rather reserved clarinet suddenly found itself amongst jolly support before the soft volumes of Clemens Hagen’s resonant Stradivarius cello toned down the boisterous dance with a sweet and playful melody. Not that he was limited to that. Later in the Octet, his extended pizzicato sequence with the excellent double bass, Roberto Di Ronza, was well worth the price of admission.

The dance-like fourth movement gave plenty of room for dialogue between the superb horn and strings, who also included second violinist Gergana Gergova. Its easy, gentle sweep called up the sole figure in Scotsman Henry Raeburn’s wonderful canvas, The Skating Minister (ca. 1790), painted in the same decade that Schubert was born. What’s more, here in Schwarzenberg’s resonant Angelika Kaufmann hall, bassoonist Marco Postinghel boosted the feelgood factor, capitalising on the humour and infinitely human pulse that such a comprehensive single work can sometimes harbour. No question, one wants to come back to this festival for more.