It would be hard to top this combination: an almost cloudless summer sky above the Swiss Alps, a broad assembly of varied music in three different concert venues, and a hike up to the noble “Schatzalp” Hotel, once the sanitorium that author Thomas Mann cited in The Magic Mountain. Such was the scheduled second Festival Tour concert of the Davos Festival Young Artists’ programme: a winner if ever there was one.

Amaury Viduvier © Yannick Andrea, Davos Festival
Amaury Viduvier
© Yannick Andrea, Davos Festival

First, at the Herz Jesu Church in the middle of town, Amaury Viduvier starred in a rendition of Olivier Messiaen’s L'Abîme des Oiseaux for solo clarinet, a challenging piece that he began almost as an inaudible private prayer, but in which he later argued convincingly for the beauty of the single line. On his heels, were the seven voices of the Women’s Choir, who, while standing in a formal, closed circle on the church’s raised apse, sang two meditative works by the modern composer Giacinto Scelsi. The Ave Maria was an appeal for protection, the Alleluia, sung to Her glory.

The highlight of the Herz-Jesu concert, though, was the stunning suite for solo viola Pirin by Dobrinka Tabakova, whose almost gypsy-like intervals, mesmerizing repetitions and tempi changes that violist Hana Hobiger mastered beautifully.  

The English church, or next venue, isn’t far away, and the second concert began there almost immediately. I sat as far forward in the church as possible, keen to see as much expression as I could among the singers in their tightly enclosed circle, and pleased when I could identity the soloists in one of the two works they sang by Hildegard von Bingen. Clearly, they take that circular form for the integrity of their collective voices, but barring the wonderful mane of Pre-Raphaelite red tresses that fell behind one, the closed circle strips the audience of any glimpse of them as individuals.

<i>Immer mit der Ruhe</i> © Yannick Andrea, Davos Festival
Immer mit der Ruhe
© Yannick Andrea, Davos Festival

The accomplished Hugo Ticciati, concertmaster of the Davos Festival Camerata, then played Bach’s Partita no. 2 in D minor, establishing himself firmly in the ranks of virtuous Bach-ables, but including dozens of variations that, as gifted as he is, were just too long for my taste. He also led the Festival Camerata Orchestra in a lovely version of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which was especially moving in light of a bronze plaque that faced me in my pew, which read: “In loving memory of Edward John Pilkington, died Davos, December 27 1930, aged 26.”

Next on the programme was the 300-metre ascent to the Schatzalp for those who were game for a hike of a little more than one hour. It led up through the woods to the restored and strikingly beautiful Hotel Schatzalp. It was there, in the tearoom, that the third of the day’s concert tour offers was performed. We in the audience took our rest and enjoyed the gracious Jugendstil decoration of what was once one of Davos’ 26 different sanatoria. Understandably, the majority of them lost all their business owing to the discovery of antibiotics that brought a cure to tuberculosis. 

First, in that historic, gracious setting, and accompanied by pianist Esther Kruger, the young soprano Nadia Catania sang Gustav Mahler’s timeless Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen from the Rückert-Lieder. The singer’s nerves made hers less than a perfect rendition, but she is certainly on her way to a fine voice. A relaxed conversation with the violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja followed, wherein one learned of the gratitude she has for her life here in Switzerland and the amusements of her dreamlife. What’s more, she contended that in her music, “the brain has be spooned in slowly, the hands must simply follow”, and she shared that in the music she plays, “the finest moment is when everything else disappears, and only the piece is present”. It was just unfortunate that her interviewer’s voice was hard put to carry even with gross adjustments to the sound system.

Finally, our “tour” enjoyed a fine performance by the talented young pianist Frederic Bager, who played Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B flat major, D.960 for an audience of some 80 people. While in this classic pièce de la résistance of the early Romantic repertoire the notes seemed just to ease from his fingers in the tender passages, he showed tremendous power and volume at the other end of the spectrum too. The playfulness he brought to the third movement, for example, was infectious, while the fourth took a prize for playful. In command of a great musical gift, Bager nevertheless seemed a humble young man, and was pleased as punch with the final applause. Rightly so, for his Schubert put us just about as close to Heaven as any Swiss Alp can get. 

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