East Neuk Festival


Crail Church

Keith Bruce

five stars

EXACTLY a year hence, Malcolm Martineau will be accompanying tenor Christoph Pregardien in a recital of Franz Schubert's 20-song Die schone Mullerin in Schwarzenberg in Austria. The Edinburgh pianist could probably spend his entire musical life playing for singers at dedicated celebrations of the composer's chamber music the world over. East Neuk's Schubertiad made up nearly a third of this year's festival programme, but the recitals that teamed him with Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans, including those settings of Muller's poems about the lovely miller's lass, were the sole vocal element.

Oliemans and Martineau set off at pace, but that tactic was perhaps only to reveal the contrasts of the suite between songs like Ungeduld and Morgengruss and an aching Die liebe Farbe that far transcended its party-piece status. Oliemans has a wide palette for vocal colours at his disposal, particularly at the top of his range, but the truism is that this was a duo performance of the highest quality.

That excellence ran throughout the strand, with the Belcea Quartet demonstrating what Schubert's mighty last quartet in G owes to the template-setting Josef Haydn in his Opus 20 set on Saturday morning and then joining pianist Elisabeth Leonskaya for the last of the Schubertiad at night. Her playing of the Piano Sonata in A Minor on 1817 was a purposeful and dynamic guide through the story of the piece, with the middle Allegretto movement beautifully song-like in itself. The quartet had opened the recital with an exquisitely balanced account of the famous fragment Quartettsatz, and second violin Alex Schacher moved to the leader's seat for the Trout Quintet with Leonskaya and bassist Alois Posch. The song in the fourth movement, echoed in the piano part in the finale, was far from the whole story here, with the harmonising viola and cello of the Andante and terrific attack of Schacher on the Scherzo as memorable. Here were players revelling in Schubert showing his orchestration skills in miniature.