Friday 28 April 2017

Incontri in Terra di Siena

La Foce, near Siena, home of Incontri in Terra di Siena
La Foce, near Siena, home of Incontri in Terra di Siena
A compact programme of Wolf, Kreisler/Rachmaninoff and Ravel from tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Alessio Bax on 24 April 2017, at 22 Mansfied Street, was the curtain raiser to the 29th annual ‘Incontri’ festival which takes places around the villa and gardens of La Foce near Siena (29 July to 5 August 2017). It was also a mediation on the lengths people go to in order to save and make a beloved family home relevant and sustainable.

First the concert. Ian Bostridge sang six of Wolf’s Mörike-Lieder, making them sound more cruel than laddish (as I imagine them) – or that may have been the body language, which doubled as his telegraphing to Bax how he wanted them to go. ‘Um Mitternacht’ gave us a moment to pause, with ‘Abschied’ ending on a comic and chaotic waltz.

From the concentration required to accompany these intense miniatures, Bax switched to a different kind of concentration for his two waltz solos. Kreisler / Rachmaninoff’s ‘Liebesleid’ – the pains of love – which also gives scope for what Bax described as ‘the other possibilities’… and Ravel’s ‘La Valse’ – a ‘waltz gone wrong’ says Bax – becomes poisoned, a symbol of turbulent times.

And turbulent it certainly was. You could hear the audience gasping at the virtuosity as they heard bits of waltz that were torn apart and momentarily stuck together again.

Bax has taken over as Artistic Director of the Incontri in Terra di Siena Festival, eight days of chamber music concerts with a terrific international line-up of stars including Joshua Bell, Paul Watkins, Sarah Connolly and Julius Drake, the Escher Quartet, Founding Director of the Festival, the cellist Antonio Lysy, and Bax himself. As well as the music, the Festival includes local visits and tours of the spectacular gardens of la Foce.

After the wild abandon of the piano playing, Benedetta Origa talked about La Foce. Her Anglo-American mother and Italian father ignored advice and bought a large farm in Tuscany in the 1920s, hired the English architect Cecil Pinsent to create gardens that blend formal terraces into the Tuscan landscape, and set about breathing new life and prosperity into the area before the war changed everything.

Iris Origo’s autobiography, just re-published by Pushkin Press , tells this story as well as exploring a childhood spent between Europe and America (and her daughter couldn’t resist a little aside about the benefits of internationalism – not that tonight’s audience would need any convincing). Benedetta described the ‘doggedness’ of her parents and their love for the property – which they have passed on to her as she finds a new life for it. La Foce is an old Etruscan word meaning ‘meeting place’ and hence the Festival provides a meeting place for friends and music lovers alike.
Ruth Hansford

HUGO WOLF (from Mörike-Lieder): Begegnung, Nimmersatte Lieber, Der Jäger, Lied eines Verliebten, Um Mitternacht, Auf ein altes Bild, Abschied


RAVEL:  La Valse

Ian Bostridge – tenor
Alessio Bax – piano

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