Middle Eastern-inspired music filled Salzburg’s Great Festival House this evening, presented by the Mozarteum Orchestra under the young Spanish guest conductor Antonio Méndez.
Violinist Alina Pogostkina (born in the Soviet Union, her violinist parents left after it collapsed to begin a new life in Germany as street musicians, which is how she got her start) joined the orchestra for Aram Khachaturyan‘s violin concerto. She may not have fully warmed up before coming on stage, as the sounds that initially emerged from her instrument were weak and halting, even though the music itself requires a robust and somewhat edgy opening. Méndez noticed, and quickly dialed down the orchestra to not overwhelm her. As her sound warmed (although it never became completely full), the orchestra came back up to a normal level.
I’m not convinced she ever quite captured the rawness of this work. The orchestra did, however. Although not scored for duduks, it could have been: the most quintessential of Armenian instruments made its presence felt in the music even without being in the score. The orchestra painted a journey across the low Caucasus, with highly evocative playing.
The journey south deeper into the Middle East continued with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s tone poem Scheherazade. Méndez did not magnify the sounds, but pulled out individual lines and wove them together. Not big drama, but lots of little touches. Both halves of the concert presented especially fine playing by the bassoon soloist in particular, and also the first chair oboe and clarinet.