In its Georgian heyday Bath was less genteel and more Las Vegas than we like to think: a place of raciness and glitz. But time has mellowed it into a showplace of civility, and never more than in November when the Bath Mozartfest fills its handsome buildings with discriminating music – strictly classical, invariably tasteful, and proof of how significant is the relationship between performance and the space in which it happens.
When you hear Haydn or Mozart in Bath’s Assembly Rooms – imagine Jane Austen doing likewise on the same spot – it has a curious potency. And it was extra-potent last week when the Mozartfest hosted the Israel-based Jerusalem Quartet: one of the great ensembles of its kind worldwide, known for intense musicianship but also, alas, for generating tensions of a different order.
Its recitals are persistently disrupted by pro-Palestinian lobby groups who claim the Quartet is a cultural ambassador for Israel and protest whenever it appears in London. There were fears of similar scenes here.
But the civility of Bath prevailed and nothing happened – except playing of impeccably delivered insight and assertive strength of technique, shared in equal measure by all four performers in the 2nd Brahms Quartet: a magisterial account to cherish and remember.
It’s a pity some of that strength couldn’t have transfused into the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra the following night, in an unspecial Beethoven Violin Concerto with soloist Alina Ibragimova. But the conductor Vassily Sinaiski made more of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony that followed – so that at least made a grand conclusion to the Mozartfest, which has been running successfully for 25 years as a largely private venture, without state support.
So great is the success that it now has an offspring, the Bath Bachfest, which runs on much the same terms in February. If you go, check out Bath’s latest architectural splendour: the conversion of an imposing Regency hospital into a hotel, The Gainsborough, which has direct access to the hot thermal spring that makes the city a spa town. I stayed there for the Mozartfest. It was civility incarnate.
Will Todd is a composer best known for immediately attractive, sometimes jazz-inflected choral music written from the heart and with a gift for melody. But he’s also written a stagework, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, that played several well-received seasons at Opera Holland Park and has just been at the Royal Opera’s Linbury Theatre.
A repackaging of Lewis Carroll into modern terms with West End show tunes, it’s not deathless music. But it is a good show, deftly staged by Martin Duncan with the kind of magic that all children like. Adults too.