The unearthly wailing is from the racetrack down the valley at Estoril; the birdsong is from the trees all around; the audience is a mixture of music students, strait-laced local aristocracy and trippers just up from the beach; at the piano is our own Stephen Kovacevich, delivering Schubert, Bach, and Berg. The auditorium in this garden overlooking Lisbon was designed in part by Artur Rubinstein, who encouraged its owner to replicate the dimensions of the Wigmore Hall; that owner, Marquesa Olga de Cadaval, may be five years cold in her grave, but at the 38th annual festival that she founded in Sintra, her spirit lives on splendidly.
For the policies she laid down are still followed faithfully. In her youth the Marquesa knew Diaghilev and Stravinsky; defying the fascist Salazar regime, she imported posses of Russian virtuosi and, after the bloodless coup of 1974, she intensified her festival's Russian component. By joining forces with the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Portuguese equivalent of England's Arts Council, she also galvanised Portugal's indigenous musical talent.
That talent, which this year's festival is showcasing, is still largely unknown outside Portugal: Maria Joao Pires and Sequeira Costa, both performing here, may be international names but I had not heard before of their fellow-pianists Antonio Rosado or Jorge Moyano, who shone just as brightly. Rosado delivered Schumann, Schubert, and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet in the throne room of a Gothic palace on a mountain top - Sintra's venues are all castles or palaces - and he displayed an impressive amalgam of power, attack and a singing lightness of touch. Moyano approached the piano with a Proust-like diffidence, but then proceeded to electrify us with an undiluted programme of Chopin Polonaises.
However, it was a young Russian who won top honours while I was there: Arkady Volodos may be a fairground showman at heart, but that doesn't prevent him weaving a spell like Prospero. His Schubert had a mellow maturity, his Scriabin was as perfumed as anyone could wish, and his Rachmaninov had something of that pellucid sincerity found in the master's recordings of his own works.
With dance taking over from music in mid-July, Sintra's festival is a unique event. As its directors are revising their strategy, here are two suggestions. They should include fringe events - talented young chamber players would willingly strut their stuff in exchange for board and lodging - and they should include that protean art form, fado.
The festival continues until 2 August (00351-21 910 7110)
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- Igor Fyodorovitch Stravinsky