They over-hyped tonight’s concert of the Philharmonie Salzburg in the Great Hall of the Mozarteum. Or maybe I should not have gone to this concert so soon after returning from hearing both the Philharmoniker and the Symphoniker in Vienna this past weekend. Still, the Philharmonie Salzburg sounds like a pretty good youth orchestra.
The announced conductor, Elisabeth Fuchs (the orchestra’s founder) did not appear (although she remains on the concert’s website, she was not in the program), and instead a 23-year-old cellist, Tobias Wögerer took the podium (after making his debut as a conductor in his native Linz earlier this year). I suppose conductors have to start sometime and somewhere, so I will give him a pass. He had a clear stick technique, but the orchestra did not always get it together. In many respects, the orchestra did not blend as an orchestra, but rather each instrument and each line sounded exposed, a collection of musicians playing on stage at the same time (well, usually), but not necessarily together to form a coherent sound. I do not know how much of this was attributable to Wögerer, how much to the mysteriously absent Fuchs who presumably rehearsed them, or how much to the youth of the musicians in the orchestra itself. While an orchestra should be better than the sum of its parts, in this case the individual musicians were better and the orchestra was worse.
The concert opened with Tschaikowsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, which Wögerer took at an unusually slow tempo, accentuating the drama. While this worked for the opening sections, the orchestra did not hold together all the way through.
Russian pianist Nikolai Tokarev arrived on stage for Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. By the look of it, his luggage never arrived with him, as he did not dress for the concert, performing in jeans and an open-collared casual shirt. Wögerer had the orchestra play everything staccato. This had the interesting result of accentuating the natural staccato of the piano, but also made each attack more exposed if not everyone hit each note preceisely together (they did not). Despite this attempt to play in a lively way, Tokarev lost interest somewhere along the way, and the entire piece became unusually dull. Once the piece dragged on to its ultimate conclusion, Tokarev gave us for an encore a few more solo variations on the same Paganini theme, in a much more contemporary style. I don’t know if some composer after Rachmaninov (but less talented) wrote these additional variations out, or if Tokarev simply improvised. I suppose it did not matter.
After the intermission, the orchestra returned to perform Tschaikowsky’s Symphony #6. Again, it was rather unfortunate that whereas I bought tonight’s ticket a month ago, I got a last-minute ticket to hear the Philharmoniker perform this same work in the Musikverein last weekend. Although I experienced the Philharmoniker from a seat in the midst of the percussion section, and therefore out of balance, these poor students tonight in no way could match the world’s best orchestra, and they did not. As a youth orchestra, however, they were good – although, as noted earlier, they tended to perform individually as a group rather than always joining together for a common sound. The audience was disproportionately young – the orchestra and Wögerer clearly invited all of their friends, so they got a rousing (deserved) applause.