Carl Maria von Weber: Clarinet Quintet in B-flat Major, Opus 34 (Fantasia and Rondo)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Flute Quartet in A Major for Flute, Violin, Viola and Cello, K. 298
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Clarinet Quintet, K. 581
Philippe Bernold: Flute
Philippe Berrod: Clarinet
Marc Coppey: Cello
Mario Hossen: Violin
Richard Schmoucler: Violin
Grégoire Vecchioni: Viola
From die-hard music lovers to mere music dilettantes, summer in Drôme provençale means at least one stop at the Saoû Chante Mozart festival, the highly regarded classical music feast whose popularity has never failed to increase in its 34 years of existence. Moreover, it got high praise, at least from my mom, when it managed to successfully put up some carefully organized outdoors concerts during the pandemic summers. Now, is that dedication or what?
Unlike, my mom who dutifully went to most of the performances (Ah, to be retired in Southern France!), I have a more selective approach and a busier schedule, so I decided to save my time and energy for the one program I simply couldn’t do without, the concert featuring Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet at the Château d’Eurre, a smallish but stylish castle still standing in the lavender fields right outside the pretty village of Saoû and occupied by two very lucky families, last Saturday evening at the highly civilized time of 8 P.M.
That also gave us the opportunity to take in a very pleasant ride on the nonchalantly winding road in the local countryside, and even indulge in yummy blackcurrant ice-cream in front of the castle, garden-party style, never mind that the lavender had already been harvested and the remains were definitely not attractive. It would have taken more than scrawny fields to kill the festive mood, and there was with a lot of giddiness when we sat down in the elegant courtyard to the unescapable sounds of the tireless crickets outside.
Although he “hated that job and could not finish it”, Mozart eventually delivered a very nice work for Count von Deym’s cabinet of wax sculptures in Vienna just a few months before his death. On Saturday evening, it provided a delightful introduction to the concert as well as a not-to-be-missed chance to marvel at the sterling musicianship of Philippe Bernold, who is not only one of France’s top flutists, but the intrepid artistic director of the festival as well.
The next piece was not by Mozart, but close enough since Carl Maria von Weber was one of his wife’s cousins, and his Clarinet Quintet was certainly dazzling enough to be featured in the program. We only got two movements of it, but what movements! While the closing Rondo was bright and high-spirited, it is the Fantasia that caught everybody’s attention and confidently kept it. Suffice to say, it has not been called “one of the most beautiful pieces ever written for the clarinet” for nothing.
After a short intermission during which we did not even bother getting out, everybody was back for Mozart’s happy-go-lucky Flute Quartet in A Major for Flute, Violin, Viola and Cello, which turned out to be a nice, short and sweet treat that was almost as refreshing and tasty as the ice-cream we had enjoyed earlier.
But the high point of the evening had to be Mozart’s glorious Clarinet Quintet, the first, and maybe still the best, major composition that perfectly incorporated the clarinet into the traditional string quartet. Tellingly enough, it was the only composition without a related blurb in the printed program, appearing only on the cover with one word: “sublime”. And what else is there to say, really?
Although I am not a particular fan of the clarinet, I am a huge fan of that Clarinet Quartet and was thrilled at the prospect of experiencing it then and there. There was a lot of eminent musicians on the stage on Saturday night, but as far as I am concerned, having long-established clarinet virtuoso Philippe Berrod grace us with his superlative talent while clearly having a ball himself was the blazing highlight of the performance.
In fact, it was such an undisputed peak that the musicians decided not to extend the evening with an encore despite our long and loud request. So we left, walked through the all lit-up village square where plenty of festivities were still going strong, and took the nonchalantly winding road back to Dieulefit in total darkness but for the car’s lights this time, a spooky but relaxing way to end our Saturday night.