Beethoven, Bach, Strauss
Salzburg’s Great Festival House has reopened after several months of supposed renovation, and the Mozarteum Orchestra greeted it with a joyous rendition of Beethoven‘s Piano Concerto #1 with Herbert Schuch at the keyboard and Riccardo Minasi on the podium. Minasi kept the performance well-shaped and lively, while Schuch deftly handled the longer third cadenzi that Beethoven wrote as an alternative set for himself eight years after he gave the premiere of this work. An early work by Beethoven, it showed a fullness of character (despite a smaller orchestra) while maintaining a youthful boisterousness.
Schuch added a more sedate chorale by J.S. Bach as an encore, which made a nice balance for the mood going into the intermission – he did not need a show-stopper, but just enough to allow everyone to relax from the exciting first work back in the hall.
After the intermission, Strauss‘ Don Quijote did not quite have the same impulse. The playing was generally fine (although a surprising number of stray notes emerged), but I never got the sense that Minasi had become sufficiently comfortable with this work, as it lacked the humor and spring it needs. The title character appears as the solo cellist, and there are two ways of taking it: either as a first-chair cellist blending into the whole (as the principal violist, tenor horn, and bass clarinet combine to portray Sancho Panza within the orchestra), or as a virtuoso main focal point of the story. Marcus Pouget did not really do either: as a featured soloist he sat up front next to Minasi and played well within the orchestra – so perhaps trying to stand out but not really doing so. His playing, like the orchestra’s, was fine, but it just lacked any particular drive. (On the other hand, the soloist threesome portraying Sancho really did stand out, particularly the principal violist – with tonight’s performance, the work could have as easily been called Sancho Panza).
As for the renovations: I must admit I did not notice anything different than before. The hall could use a good sprucing up, as it is looking a bit tired, and I had assumed that is exactly what they were doing. But all the rips and scratches were in the same places. The stage looked the same, too. The woman in the seat next to me thought that maybe they had installed brighter lights in the foyer – possibly, but that would then appear to have been the extent of it.
Rossini, La Gazzetta
I have no idea what I just saw, which in this case is not a bad thing. Even by Rossini‘s standards, his opera La Gazzetta is crazy, which is why it completely disappeared from the repertory for about 150 years (and then only in a partially cobbled-together performance since not all of the manuscript was found). Rossini had recycled music from elsewhere into this opera and used music written for this elsewhere (notably re-purposing the overture for Cenerentola). A proper, more-or-less complete, performing edition was not reconstructed until 2001.
The Salzburg Landestheater pulled it off the shelf this season, and in this performance I just gave up trying to understand the plot, and just enjoyed the complete farce and wonderful music. The director, Alexandra Liedtke, is German, but I nevertheless gave her the benefit of the doubt when deciding to buy a ticket, based on the staging she did of Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann in this theater last season – that staging was actually nothing special, but it was not offensive German Regietheater and allowed for quite an intelligently reconstructed version of Offenbach’s own opera with problematic multiple versions.
Liedtke set the staging in around 1960, when the opera – or at least parts of it – was rediscovered. That may indeed have been the only logic for the time period. I don’t know. Rather than trying to clarify what was happening on stage, she augmented the farce. In the sense that the plot is already quite convoluted (I’m having a hard time even finding a good plot summary online that makes any sense at all, and the program book did not even make an attempt – it provided a simplified outline, but even that was not so simple and far more is going on that the outline simply can’t capture), this actually worked. I do not know how much of the plot twist is actually in the original and how much she added (especially the background slapstick that kept involving main characters as well so mixed into the story line), but I suppose it did not really matter.
In the end, it was worth enjoying precisely because it was a complete farce. Oh… and the music. The music was great. The cast (themselves a mishmash – all quite acceptable with no standouts and no problems, several of them having performed here before but mostly not this theater’s repertory casting) clearly had fun on stage. The young Welshman Iwan Davies, the Landestheater’s corepetitor, got to take the podium (apparently substituting for the regular conductor, although no explanation was provided) – and he took a little bit of time to warm into the evening, starting off a bit too square for Rossini, but once warmed up the Mozarteum Orchestra took over with lighthearted playing and appropriate tone.
L. Mozart, W. A. Mozart
The Camerata Salzburg celebrated Leopold Mozart‘s 300th birthday this evening with an amusing concert in the Mozarteum with Andreas Spering conducting. Eclipsed in music history by his son, Wolfgang Amadé, in his day Leopold was a highly-celebrated pedagogue, conductor, and violinist – but of course his son (and daughter Nannerl) learned well
The concert opened with Symphony in B-flat, a fairly conventional work of its period. A superlative chamber orchestra, the Camerata has a fullness of tone that magnified the work (the fact that the orchestra avoided the faddish trend of using out-of-tune period instruments certainly also helped). Where Leopold Mozart excelled, however, was in the introduction of solo instruments to the chamber ensemble, so in the case of the second piece on the program – a concerto for two horns in E-flat – the two hornists playfully danced around the continuo (I wasn’t quite sure they were fully in tune with each other, though).
All of this playfulness, however, was nothing compared to what followed: a selection of short ditties by a ten-year-old Wolfgang Amadé, mostly snarky variations on themes by other composers that the younger Mozart made fun of in something known as his Gallimathias Musicum (Quodlibet) – a whole lot of whimsy, which the orchestra hammed up (including by walking off the stage and wandering around the hall). Some of it was warped, some syncopated, some sung, some made to sound like bagpipes, and God Save the King performed with different instruments going along at different speeds. Leopold must have been in equal measures proud of and horrified by his progeny.
After the intermission, we returned to Leopold, now his Serenade in D-flat. The initial movements for the continuo alone once again reverted to standard (albeit good standard), but then followed several movements in which Leopold seems to have incorporated his concerti for natural trumpet and for tenor trombone. Once again, the solo instrument added immensely to the work, darting in and out of the continuo and playing with conventions (neither of these instruments had reached their modern forms yet, so they were not yet standard orchestral fare). These two solo instruments were not modern (unclear from my seat was whether they were original from the period or models) and – especially the natural trumpet – are harder to play accurately. But aside from a few off-notes, they blended well. (The concert materials, including on line, did not identify the soloists by name – I do not know if they might have been listed in the program, as they ran completely out of programs and I and those seated around me did not manage to find any although some people in the audience clearly had them).