Yuri Serov

It will take you just about forty minutes to climb from Visp, by car or by bus, up to the village of Saas-Fee high up in the heart of the Swiss Alps. There are no roads further out, and all you have around you is snowy peaks, suntanned people with sticks and knapsacks, with skis and snowboards in their hands. The village is unbelievably cozy, and the 13 four-thousand-meter peaks surrounding it seem to be guardians of its silence and quiet. The hotels are very comfortable, the Swiss cheeses are unsurpassable as always, and the people are cheerful and hospitable. How heavenly classical music sounds here, and how fantastic it is that the traditional Música Romântica festival was held here in August 2013, for the eleventh time now.

I have written about Música Romântica on several occasions, and my main impressions have remained the same for many years: it seems that there cannot be more enchanting combination of a natural landscape and music than at the festival in Saas-Fee. It is a combination of snowy peaks that are frozen in eternity – and sounds of music, always new and unexpected, changing all the time and only living here and now.

The audience received all the concerts with great warmth and unaffected enthusiasm. It looked like they greatly missed the festival (which was not held last year) and wanted to make up for the lost chance. This nearly loving reception was instantaneously transmitted to the musicians on stage, and the events had a pitched atmosphere of joint music-making and partnership.

The charming Eliane Rodrigues, the muse and central character of Música Romântica, appeared as before in two creative images, that of a virtuoso pianist and a remarkable, emotional conductor. On the first week, she brilliantly appeared performing Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto, probably the most demanding concerto in the piano literature, and brand-new as ever Second Concerto of Saint-Saëns; and on the second week, she conducted two programs (including the final gala concert, which definitely became the culmination of the whole festival), and performed one of the most amazing of Mozart’s opuses, his early “Jeunehomme” KV271 piano concerto.

That was a marvelous evening that enabled the audience to plunge ahead into the lyrical depths of this masterpiece surprising even for the young Austrian genius. Adding to the above Eliane’s full-scale engagement in two chamber music concerts, we can imagine two weeks of unbelievable saturated, continuous musical effort, which she did as easily and unrestrainedly as if it were a small promenade in the mountains.
In our age of total and universal copying, and as a result of loss of bright individuality by many performers, the virtuoso, inspired, and unpredictable Eliane Rodrigues plays as the great musicians of the past did – in a free and improvising way, without looking back at the tradition and canon, she plays as a bird sings. And surely it is this freedom of hers that gives the whole festival some celebrating and unfettered attitude. (Although, a splendid dinner at a restaurant before the concert, and a walk in the fresh Alpine air do make their strong contribution to the unique atmosphere of Música Romântica).
The festival’s debutant, violinist Leonard Schreiber produced a powerful impression. This musician is still quite young, and astonishingly uninhibited, flexible and natural in each phrase and in each movement. His temperament, perfect techniques, and intense, melodious violin sound was very much “becoming” to the Romantic excited music of Grieg and Massenet. I am positively sure that Leonard has an interesting and remarkable life in art ahead of him.
Cellist Gavriel Lipkind arrived to Música Romântica for the second time, and this time with the status of a good old friend. He was very enthusiastically welcomed from his very first appearance onstage, and it is believed that he came up to all most magnificent expectations of the audience.

He is a mature musician with his inimitable artistic manner of communication, and he has everything that is needed for incessant performing achievements. Lalo’s Concerto in Gavriel’s interpretation was full of the necessary Romantic inspiration, and he played the fascinating Variations on a Rococo Theme of Tchaikovsky sparingly, beautifully and exquisitely to the maximum.

Nina Smeets-Rodrigues did not appear before the previous festival, but this year she presented several complicated programs, having noticeably expanded both her repertoire and her pianistic specialty. I was enthralled by Rachmaninoff’s Suite for Two Pianos as performed by Nina and Eliane. This youthful opus of the great Russian composer is a sincere, pure, and touching piece full of some heavenly beauty and tenderness (the author was very much in love in the days when he was writing the Suite). In the duo of mother and daughter, it was these merits of the opus that were revealed most prominently, with the music murmuring and modulating with all of its warm colours and tints. Really impressive was the ensemble preciseness and synchronism of performance, which is a rare but necessary quality for a piano duo.

For the second time, the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra became one of the lead characters of MR. I have already had a chance to express my opinions on that excellent ensemble. The orchestra has a fantastic woodwinds group, soft and very high-quality brass, and strings that are well-set and abundant in terms of the sound. The orchestra sounds powerfully and emphatically, but never forces the sound. In this aspect they are of course much closer to the Western school of orchestral performing than to the Soviet one.

The Lithuanian musicians are equal to the most complicated and virtuoso symphonic scores. Among the brightest “Lithuanian" impressions of the Festival are the monumental Organ Symphony of Saint-Saëns, which Belgian maestro Walter Proost conducted in an inspired, free, assured, and flexible way; Vltava, a symphonic poem by Smetana, and fragments of Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, this time under the baton of the orchestra’s music director Juozas Domarkas (who will celebrate the 50th anniversary serving as the head of the ensemble next year), and without doubt Le Cygne de Tuonela by Sibelius, a piece where the audience raved about the English horn solo (played by Lukas Sarpalius) really breathtaking in its beauty (I can hardly imagine that this piece could ever be performed more perfectly).
I do hope that the festival will continue delighting us with fresh artistic impressions so needed in today’s world, striking discoveries, and new encounters with beautiful music. I can imagine how difficult it is to arrange and manage such a large-scale festival, how many challenges one has to handle, and how much effort one must apply. Good luck Música Romântica, and more achievements to you in the future!    

Yuri Serov
Prof St. Petersburg Conservatory