The Camerata Salzburg really is one of the finest chamber orchestras anywhere. Working without a principal conductor these days, they invite a range of guests. This evening they had Manfred Honeck, the charismatic Austrian currently music director in Pittsburgh, on the bump. His concerts exude charm, and he’s rightfully quite popular in his homeland (makes me wonder why his rather more routine countryman currently in Cleveland gets all the attention).
The concert opened with the Overture to the Magic Harp (later repurposed by others and therefore mostly remembered as that to Rosamund) by Franz Schubert, wherein Honeck exhibited his sparkle and the orchestra shone. Oddly, that may have been the highest point this evening.
Beethoven‘s Piano Concerto #2 followed, with Lang Lang at the keyboard. This was actually Beethoven’s first completed piano concerto (numbered out of order) and a student work. Beethoven himself was never convinced by it. It’s a bit Mozartian, but not as good, which makes it even less interesting. Beethoven was indeed a genius, and elements of what would become his style certainly poke out, but especially hearing this after his two final piano sonate performed two nights ago, it really did not cut the grade. Honeck raced through the opening, almost trying to get to the solo as quickly as he could. Then Lang joined in. He clearly cultivates an image, shaping sounds by moving his hands in the air above the keys when not playing, and looking away whenever he does actually play. But it sounded a tad clunky. To be fair, the acoustics in Salzburg’s Haus für Mozart, as I have mentioned before, really are poor, and I would mark the tinny, distant sound down to that rather than to the performers. But the acoustics certainly did not help.
Lang added two encores. I have no idea what they were, but they were showpieces which allowed Lang to demonstrate just how fast he could move his fingers (very!) without hitting any wrong notes. Quite impressive showmanship.
After the pause came Schubert’s Great C Major Symphony (normally #9, but sometimes bearing #7 or #8 due to some convoluted history – probably #8 would be most correct, as it appeared in the program tonight, although it’s more often designated #9 by convention). Honeck had everything under control, with wonderful Austrian lilts, and the Camerata just got it. My only quibble was the speed: Honeck raced through the symphony, including the stately opening and the slow movement. I’m not sure I understood why.