It is common to hear a good orchestra. It is less usual to find one which is so good that it manages to outshine the solo artists it is supposed to be supporting.
The long awaited arrival of the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra created such a phenomenon.
The soloists were by no means substandard. They included the agile soprano Véronique Gens and the crystalline pianist Lars Vogt.
However, even the skills of these two performers couldn’t steal the show away from the performers from Salzburg, who produced a feeling of unity and guided the listener with clarity through the course of Mozart’s thematic and harmonic genius.
The Mozart programme opened with the Symphony No. 34 in C major, K338, (1780). The symphony was a good starting piece as Mozart’s inventive interpretation of the genre’s conventional form produced a forward moving feeling which thrust the concert into motion. The tone of the first movement, the Allegro vivace, was at once grand and personal due to the contrasting intricacies of ceremonial pomp and dainty polyphonic themes that playfully entwined through the dominating developmental material. The second movement, the Andante di molto, was a gentle lyrical minuet and was played with subtle elegance. This was followed by a lightly joyous finale, the Allegro vivace. It had an unstoppable energy and a special mention must be given to the wind section who managed to avoid the numerous and treacherous technical pitfalls.
The Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K491, (1786) allows the soloist to use his intellect as opposed to just a superficial flamboyance. Vogt began the piano exposition with a lucid yet firm touch. The minor mode and piano dynamics helped to create a pensive atmosphere which continued to pervade the music throughout the concerto. He let the melody sing out at all times whilst allowing the ethereal textures to shine through.
The Larghetto second movement was written in E flat major to contrast to the minor outer movements even though this meant that Mozart would have to defy convention. However, rigidity was not a quality the young composer possessed. This concerto shows, more than ever, how he used the conventions as opposed to allowing them to control him. The orchestra charmingly supported Vogt in this enchanting rondo.
Finally the last movement, the Allegretto, was a winding chromatic build up. The play on expectation and manipulative nature of the piece had the desired effect on the audience at the Royal Albert Hall: a sense of wonderful direction through uncertainty.
After the break Gens sang first, a relentless tirade of an aria which was then followed by a tender and sensitive love song.
The tirade took on the guise of a dejected lover, although one hastens to add, a none too convincing one. Rather, Amanda, from La finta giardiniera (1774), seems to relish the attention and drama which she finds herself in. Gens sang ‘Vorrei punirti, indegno, I want to punish you, worthless man,’ with a contemptuous certainty. Her impressive voice carried well over the huge space in which she was singing.
Ch’io mi scordi di te? Non temer, amato bene, K505 (1786) is as much of a contrast from its preceding number as is possible. Mozart himself played the piano part at its premiere, which caused considerable speculation at the time as to whether he was in love with the song’s dedicatee, Nancy Storace, the first Susanna. Certainly there is much to be said in favour of this idea when one considers the intimacy that the piano and the vocal line have. Gens bought out Mozart’s clever word painting and tackled the wide range in the vocal line with apparent ease. However, there was a slight obstruction in the final cadenza due to a problem with a short period of slightly unstable air speed.
Symphony No. 38 in D major, K504 ‘Prague’ (1786) is a grand work with a wealth of styles and musical material. Most notable are its operatic references – the dramatic opening for example, which brings to mind the entrance of the Commendatore’s statue from Don Giovanni (Mozart’s next opera). The first movement was conducted in a fresh, clean and fun way and apart from one suspicious horn entry it was played well.
In the Andante, attention was given to the personified instrumental parts. The chromaticism and thirds were sensitively played whilst allowing a rich tone to shine through. The final Presto was also enticingly attacked with its unusual rhythms sounding together and easily logical.
Thunderous applause rained down over the performers at the end of the evening and it was well deserved. The musicians were top quality and the programme was thoughtfully constructed, a joy from start to finish.