Mendelssohn, Schubert

A somewhat relaxed concert in Salzburg’s Great Festival House this evening, with the Mozarteum Orchestra under guest conductor Trevor Pinnock, with music by Mendelssohn and Schubert, provided big works in contained boxes.

Isabelle Faust came on as soloist for the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, looking effortless as she produced a very pretty and idiomatic, if not especially large, sound.  Pinnock kept the balance in the orchestra, at least for most of the concerto, never overwhelming her, and letting her read the nuances.  As nice as it came across, they could have used a larger sound to fill this hall (big, but not cavernous, and it still has good acoustics).  Faust gave an encore which sounded like a Bach partita – I did not recognize it, nor would I care to hear it again, as it was not one of his better or more interesting works and made a strange encore as it showcased nothing (neither versatility nor mood).  She does have a wonderful tone and understanding for music, but, hearing her for the first time, I sensed something was missing.

After the intermission came Schubert’s Great C Major Symphony, his Ninth (according to the standard numbering), or his Eighth (according to reality, and as numbered in tonight’s program book), or his Seventh (according to the original publication).  This is a big symphony, but Pinnock did not necessarily treat it as such.  Rather than having the horns stride out with the bold opening theme, he restrained them (and they nearly swallowed their mouthpieces – this opening theme was never meant to be restrained).  Pinnock’s concept seemed to be to perform much of this symphony piano to build tension and then unleash the tension in large brass forte sections.  Sometimes this worked, sometimes it did not, leaving the strings especially sounding thin, with bits that dragged waiting for him to get to the point.  He also employed a bit too much staccato, not always letting the orchestra draw out the gorgeous long Schubertian lines.

On the whole, I understood Pinnock’s concept, but I wavered from section to section as to whether I liked it.  I think I may have preferred a larger and fuller use of the orchestral palette, employing Pinnock’s contrasting dynamics more selectively for emphasis and drama where most effective rather than constantly.

Pinnock used a similar idea for an extended encore: Entreacte #3 from Schubert’s music for Rosamunde, with the same result.  Wonderful playing by the woodwinds especially tonight.

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