Of all the Mozart celebrations this year, the arrival of the Camerata Salzburg at the Proms was one of the most eagerly-awaited.
It was also bizarrely scheduled as a late night Prom, starting at 10.00pm and finishing too late for most non-Londoners to be able to attend.And even more frustratingly, it turned out to be one of the most successful concerts this season. The Salzburg ensemble was formed in 1951, and has gained a formidable reputation.
Here, in a programme of Mozart and Haydn, this reputation was confirmed. Mozarts rarely performed First Symphony in E flat major opened the concert. It is an inconsequential little thing, but under the leadership of Leonidas Kavakos, it was sprightly and brimming with youthful vigour. The opening with staccato strings fizzled, and its recurrences throughout the first movement were highly dramatic.
Kavakos brought much beauty and lyricism to the first movement and he wallowed in the contrasts of mood. In the second he adopted a no-nonsense approach to tempo and a near-perfect balance of instruments. The orchestral palate was gentle, yet cellos pierced the surface with threatening undertones. The scurrying strings of the Presto brought the piece to its exciting close.
Kavakos turned from conductor to soloist in Mozarts third violin concerto, and he performed a nimble account of the virtuosic score. He not only led his orchestra with clarity often joining the first violins when he was without a solo part but, more importantly, he coped with the demands of the piece with technical flair. His sound was bright, and he allowed every single line of music to emerge naturally from the orchestral accompaniment.
The nocturnal atmosphere of the second movement was beautifully communicated, with Kavakoss firm hand allowing no sentimentality. Woodwind supported with lyricism, while the sudden shifts to the (superbly played) cadenza passages seemed entirely unforced. The violinists intonation was flawless throughout the three movements, and he managed to communicate the pieces blistering excitement.
That this Camerata did not perform a solely Mozartian programme was pleasing, and the highlight of the evening was the final performance, that of Haydns Symphony No. 82. The piece has been nicknamed The Bear for its raucous last movement, with hilarious low string drones and the chirpy violin tune apparently evoking bear baiting.
It was hard to imagine a more enjoyable performance of the symphony. Partly this was down to the arrival of timpanist Charlie Fischer, who added much drama to proceedings, but so many parts of the orchestra must be mentioned. Alexander Hohenthal led the first violins, and both he and his section produced a refined, mellifluous sound. With regard to woodwind, flutes, oboes and bassoons all complemented the orchestral texture, offering warmth and colouring above the string lines. The horns of Josef Sterlinger and Albert Heitzinger were meticulous, the trumpets of Wolfgang Gaisböck and Franz Landlinger thrilling.
And thrilling also was the interpretation of conductor Leonidas Kavakos, who possessed an ear keenly alert to structure and balance. He allowed all instrumental lines to shine the unsurpassable flutes and oboes most gratifyingly and he moulded them into an exciting, dramatic whole. The chamber orchestra may have been visually dwarfed by the chasmal setting of the Royal Albert Hall, but their sound was never swallowed by the acoustic. It was a stunning rendition.
Given that fellow Salzburg band, the Mozarteum Orchestra, was given an evening slot the previous week, it is hard to believe that the Camerata were relegated to ten at night. As a result, the Royal Albert Hall was possibly under a quarter full, which was nothing short of an insult to the players.
The orchestra was well drilled, well conducted and immensely enjoyable to listen to. This reviewer hopes that they will return next year, and that someone will have the common sense to put them on earlier in the day.