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Koering, who was born in Alsace in 1940, and thus now ranks among France's senior composers, is passionate about rediscovery, and about bringing back to life works which have disappeared from sight, often for no greater reason than fashion. His aim is not so much to provide French audiences with more of the traditional fare of Berlioz, Debussy and Ravel, with which they are well familiar, but rather to increase, as it were, the supply of music available to them, and make them familiar with new experiemces. Hence Koering focuses on rare programmes, as the past few years' feasts of music have amply demonstrated. It's not everywhere one encounters the likes of Chopin's Grande Sonate pour deux pianos.

Almost twenty of the concerts, with perhaps more of an emphasis on established composers, are given by young performers of talent beginning to make their way in their careers. Half a dozen concerts, which take place outdoors in and around the Place Dionysus, feature electronic and experimental music, and entry is free.

Montpellier is the sort of festival where you might stumble across, say, Riccardo Muti or Claudio Abbado conducting. This month's 2006 festival is not short of famous names among its performers: the soprano Julia Varady, the pianists Evgeny Kissin, Boris Berezovsky, Alexei Volodine and Aldo Ciccolini, the harpsichordist Benjamin Alard, the violinists Hilary Hahn and Dmitri Makhtin, and the violist Rainer Moog (a member of the Berlin Philharmonic Octet). It is even more important that the repertoire featured in the festival is rich and diverse, as a glance at this year's programme quickly reveals:

Dmitri Makhtin. Copyright photo - all rights reserved
Dmitri Makhtin. Copyright photo - all rights reserved

Hindemith's Fourth Viola Sonata, Korngold's Third Quartet, Schoenberg's Verklaerte Nacht (transcribed by Steuermann for piano trio); the violin sonata of Ton de Leeuw; further string quartets by Hosokawa, Adès, Pesson and James Dillon; piano music by Berio, Dusapin and Francesconi; ensemble music by Torke, Mulsant and the Pole Wojciech Kilar, plus Glass, Riley, Xenakis, Gubaidulina and Luis de Pablo; orchestral music by Francesconi (again), Fujikara, Rihm and Gérard Zinsstag; and among rarities from an earlier age, songs by Carl Loewe, Déodat de Séverac, Saint-Saëns and Meyerbeer.

There are 'first' performances of Ildebrando Pizzetti -- his Piano Concerto (with Aldo Ciccolini) and his Rondo Veneziano, conducted by Koering's regular collaborator at Radio France, Friedemann Layer. 'It's important that music by composers such as Pizzetti isn't ignored,' Koering explains. 'He may have been tarred, as others were, by connections with Mussolini, but the music wasn't Fascist, even if he was. One simply has to play this music: it's beautiful, important, and historic, for like Alfredo Casella and Gian-Francesco Malipiero, Pizzetti has a clear role in Italian musical history. One should know his music.'

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Copyright © 12 July 2006 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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