Beethoven‘s violin concerto has now featured on three concert programs I have attended in Salzburg during 2017. All three soloists have done it justice, but tonight’s was the best of the three: Emmanuel Tjeknavorian, the 22-year-old Austrian son of the Armenian composer/conductor Loris Tjeknavorian. The young Tjeknavorian had a gorgeous tone – sweet, but not sweetened, like a fresh organic vegetable relying on natural sugars to melt naturally in the mouth. He backed this up with full-bodiedness, but still kept nuance. A truly remarkable performance.
Less should be said about guest conductor Marko Letonja, who gave Tjeknavorian an uninspired backdrop. The Beethoven concerto excels because of the series of dialogues it sets out between the solo violin and various instruments in the orchestra. Letonja featured none of these instruments, instead blurring all of them together into a homogenized blob. The orchestra supported the soloist – indeed the way most concertos call for an orchestra to do – but this is not what Beethoven had constructed.
Letonja applied the same approach for the second half of the concert, Berlioz‘s Symphonie Fantastique. He did try to emphasize the odd syncopation, which left the work off-kilter as Berlioz intended: this is essentially Berlioz on a drug trip. Unfortunately, with Letonja conducting, the drug of choice appears to have been qualudes. The whole work dragged – especially an interminable third movement. The Mozarteum Orchestra sounded great – although periodically unable to follow Letonja, not coming in together nor always on beat – but generally uninspired. At least they too visibly enjoyed Tjeknavorian’s performance – they knew he was tonight’s winner.
Schostakowitsch, Haydn, Stravinsky, Liszt, CPE Bach
The new musical year opened tonight in Salzburg, with an extremely eclectic concert by the Mozarteum Orchestra under its brand new chief conductor Riccardo Minasi in the Mozarteum’s Great Hall. The orchestra is apparently very enthusiastic about Minasi, not least because he promises to schedule unusual works such as tonight’s combination: Dmitri Schostakowitsch‘s Festive Overture, Joseph Haydn‘s first Te Deum in C (he wrote two), Igor Stravinsky‘s Fireworks, Ferenc Liszt‘s Preludes, and finally CPE Bach‘s Magnificat. Whew!
Enthusiasm permeated the room. I’m not clear if this lead to the generally faster-than-normal tempi Minasi took, or if he really meant to play everything faster. I could say the same about the volume, which rarely dropped below forte. But this produced a breathless buzz (sometimes a bit chaotic, as in Stravinsky’s rarely-heard and refreshingly peculiar Fireworks; sometimes literally breathless, as in it was hard to believe the musicians managed to keep up and get all of the notes in for the opening of CPE Bach’s Magnificat). Everyone had a twinkle in their eyes – and sometimes an unrestrained laugh, as the first four works were relatively short and the orchestra (and chorus) had to rearrange themselves frequently and with great difficulty between them (when Minasi chose the works for this concert, he probably did not realize they were in the Mozarteum, which has a much smaller stage than the Great Festival House where they often perform).
The orchestra sounded in its accustomed form, with the Salzburg Bach Chorus joining them magnificently for the two choral works. Three of the four soloists – Kim-Lillian Strebel (soprano), Dara Savinova (alto), and Fulvio Bettini (bass) – had wonderful voices which blended nicely with orchestra and chorus even as they projected cleanly. The fourth soloist, tenor Barry Banks, was a disaster for the ears, unable to find his pitches (especially painful in his upper register) and with an ugly hoarse (but loud) timbre.