Schoenberg in Lewes

I live just up the street from the Lewes Chamber Music Festival, now in its 12th year, and I’m just back from the final concert of this year’s truly inspiring festival. The theme was Schoenberg and friends, and the festival director kept to her brief with a series of concerts that explored and celebrated the music, not always popular with the concert-going public, but demonstrated that the great revolutionary composer, born 150 years ago this year, and those who came into his sphere, were writing thrilling, emotionally and philosophically profound music that is accessible to anyone prepared to put their prejudices behind them for three days of superb music-making. Highlights were Schoenberg’s early string sextet, Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), given a luminous late-night performance; a newly-composed arrangement of two scenes from Richard Strauss’ opera, Der Rosenkavalier, and Erwin Stein’s 1921 arrangement of Mahler’s 4th Symphony for string quartet plus double bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, with piano and. harmonium, percussion, and soprano soloist. Thrilling too was Schoenberg’s late deeply emotional dramatic String Trio, given a hair-raising performance and there was also a lovely and mysterious performance of his Five Piano Pieces by French pianist Alphonse Cemin, and, in the final concert, Schoenberg’s dramatic World War Two, Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte, a setting Byron’s tyrant-attacking poem, for string quartet, piano and narrator (a stentorian and musically rhythmic Sam West).

There was also excitingly virtuosic performances of music by Charles Ives, his Piano Quartet, with, incredibly but excitingly, bass drum, known as Hallowe’en, Alban Berg, Four Pieces for clarinet and piano, Op 5, and, it has to be said, Mozart and Beethoven and the sublime Clarinet Trio by Brahms, another outstanding performance from brilliant clarinetist Matt Hunt. This year’s festival was, just possibly, the best so far. Plaudits all round.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.