Haydn, Paganini, Bruch, Schubert
In his homeland, the Russian violist (and conductor-by-necessity since there is not enough solo viola music to keep him employed) Yuri Bashmet is greeted as a cult figure and his concerts sell out immediately to people who do not understand music. In his ancestral homeland, Ukraine (he is of Hutsul descent – a small sub-group of Ukrainians from the Carpathian mountains), he is persona non grata after crossing from art into politics and openly endorsing the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year. In Austria, he is respected for his music-making by those in the know (but this does not mean a sold-out hall).
This morning, Bashmet performed with the Camerata Salzburg in the Mozarteum, a concert well worth waking up early for. Not surprisingly, the small venue that is the Mozarteum’s Great Hall provides the perfect setting for this chamber orchestra, and Bashmet understood how to get even more out of them. The opening work, Haydn’s Symphony #83 (called the “Hen” because of the clucking in its first movement) became a study in dynamics – the fortes were never too loud, but to provide contrast the pianissimi were about as quiet as humanly possible to still get noise out of the instruments. These contrasts pushed the symphony forward while showcasing the masterful artistry of individual instruments.
Bashmet then re-emerged with his viola for Paganini’s Concertino for Viola and Strings, for which Bashmet’s viola provided an operatic singing voice for the lyrical piece – not a Paganini showpiece in the usual sense, but broader and enabling the soloist to demonstrate mastery of an instrument that rarely gets solo parts written for it. To accommodate the lack of solo viola music, Bashmet does indeed have to make some of his own arrangements, and this he did after the intermission with his own transposition of Bruch’s Kol Nidre from the orchestra accompanying solo cello to solo viola. He performed the haunting solo lines with great feeling (although I do think it works better with a deeper cello voice).
For the final work, Bashmet led the Camerata in Schubert’s Symphony #5. Although excellently-played, this work does not have the same contrasts as Haydn’s Hen Symphony at the start of the concert, and without that dynamic play it began to drag. Although thought of by the composer as a work looking backwards to Mozart, it nevertheless has room to be driven forward. Unfortunately, that did not happen this morning. But it in no way detracted from the sheer musicianship of the orchestra or its guest conductor/soloist.