Mozarteum Orchestra, Mozarteum

Kraus, Koželuh, JS Bach, CPE Bach, Schubert

The wonderful Mozarteum Orchestra, under its principal guest conductor Giovanni Antonini presented a concert of historical curiosities in the Mozarteum this evening.  The music was beautifully played (as expected with this orchestra), and was pleasant enough (if not perhaps better suited in temperament for one of their Sunday morning concerts rather than a Thursday evening), but in the end, some composers probably deserve to be forgotten.

The concert opened with the Symphony in c, VB 142, by Joseph Martin Kraus, a German who spent most of his career as a court composer in Sweden and was almost an exact contemporary of Wolfgang Amadé Mozart (born a few months after Mozart, died a year after him).  Kraus composed this symphony in Vienna, and it seems likely (although not fully confirmed) that Joseph Haydn gave its premiere. Haydn is said to have liked this work – but when compared to the master, one wonders if he was just being polite to a friend.  While perfectly nice music (perhaps for a sleepy Sunday morning), it simply said nothing and went nowhere – and considering there was Haydn, there really was no need for Kraus.

Next up came the oboe concerto in F by Jan Antonín Koželuh, a Czech composer slightly younger than Haydn but with a similarly long lifespan.  Of course, if I want an oboe concerto from this period, I would turn to one by Ludwig August Lebrun (a composer who is mostly forgotten, but in my opinion not justifiably – and Lebrun’s oboe concerti are probably the pinnacle of the Fach for that instrument).  But Koželuh’s it was.  I suppose the third movement was playful, at least, but we had to get to it.  Again, perfectly nice music, but nothing to get excited about.  The solo oboist was Albrecht Mayer, the principal oboist of the Berlin Philharmonic, who had a strong but sweet tone (actually, surprisingly sweet for an oboe – normally when oboists sound sweet, they lack substance – I am a fan of the bold nasal twang of the instrument – but that was not the case here, both sweet and substantive).

Mayer and a small ensemble from the orchestra then performed an encore by Johann Sebastian Bach to head into intermission.  After the intermission came a brief symphony in F by one of JS Bach’s sons: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a bit older than the pre-intermission group but overlapping, with this symphony falling in the late 1700s as well.   There is of course also a reason that when people refer to “Bach” they mean the father and not one of his composer sons.  Not that the sons wrote bad music, but they did not rise to the level of the father.  Of course in their lifetimes they were well-regarded, but JS Bach has withstood the test of time, with his mathematically-gifted creations.

Some curiosities also withstand the test of time, as was the case of the concert’s final work.  It is not clear why Franz Schubert never finished what is known as his “Unfinished” Symphony.  Whatever the reason, he abandoned it and never intended to publish the two movements he did write (a sketch of the opening of a third movement exists, but is in no shape to perform), which reappeared several decades after his death and entered the standard repertory for good reason.  Antonini started off this performance a bit disjointed, while the orchestra tried to be lyrical – it took until a few minutes into the first movement for them to work out a happy compromise, moving out of the classical period (as for Kraus, Koželuh, and CPE Bach) and fully into the dramatic nineteenth century.  But they got there, and sent us off smiling into the night.  If the other composers were forgettable (albeit worth hearing once for sake of curiosity), Schubert most certainly is not forgettable.

Berlin Konzerthausorchester, Großes Festspielhaus (Salzburg)

Tschaikowsky, Saint-Saëns, Kobekin, Khachaturian

For the second night in a row, the 25-year-old Russian cellist Anastasia Kobekina outshone an entire orchestra.  She brought the Saint-Saëns first cello concerto to Salzburg’s Great Festival House – like the Tschaikowsky Rococo Variations last night, a work that itself never really went anywhere.  But the music did allow Kobekina to showcase what she could accomplish with instrument.  As yesterday, I found in her playing a cross between Steven Isserlis and Mischa Maisky – fantastically adept and nuanced playing with a gorgeous tone spanning the range from below the normal scale to way above it.

The Berlin Konzerthausorchester essentially stayed out of her way – just enough there, under the expert leadership of Dmitri Kitayenko, to provide the necessary background for Kobekina, but no more.

Kobekina followed up the concerto with a piece her father Vladimir Kobekin wrote for her: Fantasy on a French Theme for Cello and Tambourine (performed with one of the orchestra’s percussionists).  This was a 21st-century rewrite of a mediaeval dance, not losing the original formal dance but adding on top of it new sounds and techniques in a clever and multi-faceted whole and allowing her to demonstrate her entire range of styles in a thrilling manner.

As for the rest of the concert (Tschaikowsky‘s Manfred Symphony before the intermission, and three excerpts from Khachaturian‘s ballet Spartacus to conclude the concert): my assessment of this orchestra remains the same from last night.  They are generally emotionless, although in some of the bigger passages (essentially parts of the final movement of Manfred tonight and of Rachmaninov’s 2nd yesterday, as well as some more active parts of the ballet selections each evening) they did throw themselves into the music more.  But generally they lack passion.  Kitayenko is a very restrained conductor, but was clearly trying to craft an expansive sound; the orchestra followed and was technically pretty good (except the woodwinds again, who have neither a pleasant sound nor the harsher but idiomatic tone taught in Russia) but basically went through the motions.  The horns and percussion again stood out in a good way, as did the harps this evening, and the rest of the brass was decent, but otherwise the orchestra just came off as generally lacking soul.

The orchestra gave no encores either night, not that the audience wanted any.  This concert program repeats tomorrow – without me in the hall – as the orchestra concludes its three-night visit.

Berlin Konzerthausorchester, Großes Festspielhaus (Salzburg)

Prokofiev, Tschaikowsky, JS Bach, Rachmaninov

The Berlin Konzerthausorchester, house orchestra of that (over-rated) concert hall and one of the successors of the old Berlin Symphony Orchestra, a once-good orchestra in former East Berlin, has come to Salzburg for a three-day set.

The band was never in a class with the Berlin Philharmonic in West Berlin, but was established by the communists as a cross-town rival and was formerly rather respectable musically.  I am aware that it split at some point, with one successor orchestra keeping the name and the other one keeping the venue (hence changing its name to match the venue).  What I do not know is if that split had any connection to the precipitous drop in quality.  The original band made numerous high-quality recordings that gave it a global profile, and then at some point the orchestra seems to have faded completely from sight (they did come to Salzburg about five years ago, so I got to hear them then too – but in my only visit to Berlin a few years ago, I heard not this orchestra but rather the Philadelphia Orchestra on the stage of the Berlin Konzerthaus.)

One reason that the orchestra is globally much lower profile these days, of course, is that it just is not up to the level (I have not heard the orchestra that retained the “Symphony” name, but have no reason to believe it is any better).  The Berlin Konzerthausorchester is not actually a bad orchestra (I do hear worse in my frequent concert-going), but I score it down because I try to rate orchestras based on their supposed level – I would certainly not criticize a student orchestra for failing to meet the standards of the Vienna Philharmonic, for example.  But given the history of where this orchestra once was, I do think it is fair to treat it as though the expectation is its former standard.

This orchestra performs reasonably well technically, but lacks passion for music (I noticed that when they were here in 2015, so it’s endemic).  Well, maybe actually the woodwinds showed some passion this evening, but that was unfortunate since they really were not all that good, hitting the notes (or most of them) but producing a strained and un-lyrical tone.  The large string section played smoothly but mechanically.  The brass was acceptable.  Actually, the horn section was pretty good, and the percussionists seemed to enjoy themselves.

Dmitri Katayenko took the podium this evening (thankfully: the orchestra’s music director is actually the tedious Christoph Eschenbach, although possibly Eschenbach and the Berlin Konzerthausorchester might be meant for each other).  Kitayenko is good, but only had so much to work with given this orchestra.  The main piece, after the intermission, was Rachmaninov‘s Symphony #2 – indeed, I first heard this symphony on an old Melodiya LP with Kitayenko conducting the Moscow Philharmonic (which he led in Soviet days), and it was that recording that made me an instant fan of this work.  Kitayenko still understands this symphony and crafted it well from the podium.  The orchestra was proficient enough to follow, but not proficient enough to create the full mood or mystery.  There were flashes – particularly when the horns had something to say, as well as much of the final movement.  But more feeling from the orchestra would have helped.

The first half of the concert opened with excerpts from Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev.  By selecting a handful of spicier numbers, Kitayenko did manage to rouse the orchestra partly.

The star of the evening, however, was the soloist, the 25-year-old Russian cellist Anastasia Kobekina.  She produced a gorgeous dark full sound and had a real personality.  At moments I thought I could hear traces of the lyricism of Steven Isserlis or the warmth of Mischa Maisky.  She is definitely someone to look out for in the future, with a promising career ahead (actually well underway – she started touring young – but as she matures I’m convinced she’ll get even better).  She joined the orchestra for Tschaikowsky‘s Variations on a Rococo Theme, which is not actually a particularly good work.  It starts out with a theme derivative of Mozart and then doesn’t take it anywhere interesting.  But Kobekina outshone the entire orchestra – she was going places.  And she followed this with a JS Bach work for solo cello – far more elaborate than what Tschaikowsky produced, with its intellectual mathematical structures.  And it was nice to enjoy Kobekina’s performance without an orchestra.

Bruno Walter Symphony Orchestra, Musikverein

Mozart, Mendelssohn, Tschaikowsky

The Bruno Walter Symphony Orchestra, comprising musicians from Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest, under its founder and music director Jack Martin Händler, gives an annual concert in the Musikverein near the date of the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, with welcome from the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.  I was invited once before (I am pretty sure while I still lived in Kosovo, which I left in 2008, so no later than that year), and was kindly invited again this afternoon.

On the program for the 75th anniversary this year: Wolfgang Amadé Mozart and Pyotr Ilyich Tschaikowsky (unclear why these two were selected, and not – say – some composer the Germans murdered in Auschwitz such as Viktor Ullman, for example).  I should probably say, for the record, that I actually do like both composers.  It’s only that their music is over-performed and over-rated, so aside from concerts like these I have reduced my intake (I say as someone who works in Salzburg, where Mozart-worship is a cult, and also as someone who used to live in Moscow, where they do the same for Tschaikowsky).  But I suppose my reduced intake means I can also deal with their music when it does appear on special programs like this afternoon.

The piano duo (and married couple) Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg joined the orchestra for Mozart’s Concerto #10 for Two Pianos and Orchestra.  I heard them perform a few years ago in Salzburg, at that time doing a Mendelssohn concerto for two pianos.  While they played wonderfully together back then, the Mendelssohn concerto, a youthful work, sounded too derivative of Mozart and not particularly original (but Felix Mendelssohn was still a child when he wrote it for himself to perform with his sister Fanny, and which he left unpublished).  So it was nice to hear an actual Mozart concerto, and one written relatively later in his short life (also written for Wolfgang to perform with his sister Nannerl).

I was not previously familiar with this work, and so got to experience it in these conditions fresh.  And fresh it was in the hands of Silver and Garburg, who performed on two interlocking pianos (with lids removed, so both of their sounds emerged from the same place).  They looked across the strings lovingly at each other as they tossed their lines back and forth full of life – indeed a celebration of life that started to make sense as an opener for a Holocaust remembrance concert.  The chamber orchestra accompaniment, under Händler’s light direction, was playful, dashing among and between the piano lines.  This was Mozart at his finest.

Silver and Garburg made the bridge to the concert’s second half by providing an encore: sitting at one keyboard, they performed a four-handed rendition of the scherzo from Mendelssohn‘s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This captured the Mozartian influence, with the dancelike rhythms leading naturally to Tschaikowsky.

The Tschaikowsky 6th Symphony after the intermission.  I am not quite sure who the Bruno Walter Symphony Orchestra’s members are.  They do enough concerts per year in their three core cities (and some tours) to make me think they are a semi-permanent professional orchestra, but it seemed unclear in their literature (they were founded as an ad hoc orchestra for a music festival in 2004 and stayed together).  One problem I have with Tschaikowsky as a composer is that his later works – the ones most often performed – are insufficiently Russian, and other European composers did western music better (I actually wouldn’t mind if his quite good first three symphonies, for example, were MORE often performed, but they are usually overlooked).  But Händler and the orchestra this afternoon treated the work based on its western inspiration rather than as a Russian symphony, and this idiom worked.  There was one (excellent) exception to this: Händler, born in Bratislava and carrying with him the central European traditions, actually trained at the Moscow Conservatory and so would have brought back with him an ear for Russian sound, and in this case he had the brass – who otherwise played like central Europeans – interject with a bitter Russian technique and sound for the first and fourth movements, adding bite to these movements, making the lively dances have sinister inclinations.  This was intelligent and moving.  The fourth movement then slowly, and appropriately, faded into oblivion.

Mozarteum Orchestra, Großes Festspielhaus

Pfitzner, Gruchmann, Schubert

Franz Schubert‘s Great C Major Symphony (#9 according to standard numbering, #8 according to reality and today’s program book, #7 according to publication – but always the “Great C Major”) is a standard of the repertory, and pops up in my concert schedule almost every year.  Recent performances – even good ones – have left me wanting.  Today’s, with the Mozarteum Orchestra under Constantin Trinks, did not.  It’s not that I necessarily heard anything new (I have heard some intelligent interpretations over the years accomplishing that), but Trinks and the Mozarteum Orchestra gave a full-bodied rendition of this symphony, each movement pulsating and lively.

Schubert had intentionally written a big one: as of his time, the longest purely-orchestral symphony.  Unperformed at his death, it was dusted off a decade or so later, when Schubert’s brother gave a copy to Robert Schumann, who appreciated its value and passed it further on the Felix Mendelssohn, who gave the work its premiere and became its champion, despite ridicule in other circles.  Apparently people said it was unplayable, but that merely their incompetence.  For the Mozarteum Orchestra, it clearly is not unplayable.  And if it is purely orchestral, the lovely winds provided the voices with exquisite and emotional playing.

The concert had opened with the preludes to all three acts of Palestrina by Hans Pfitzner.  The opera tells the legend of how the composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina saved music from a papal ban.  The prelude to the first act starts with a chorale for four flutes, and gradually grows – as though the piece is writing itself – to reflect that in the legend an angel had inspired Palestrina to write the mass that convinced the pope and his retinue of the value of music, and once Palestrina started writing, so inspired, he did not pause.  For a full-sized orchestra, the Mozarteum Orchestra nevertheless managed the delicate lines with tenderness.  Pfitzner’s late-romantic music, used the conventions and orchestral palette of of 1917 to portray the 16th-century master.

The next set of works also bridged the centuries: the young Salzburg-born composer Jakob Gruchmann (born 1991) has a style which bridges his own family background in traditional folk music with the avant-garde, and today’s concert including two contrasting works by him.  The first was Pictures of Heaven based on five frescos in the Thurgau parish church depicting the life of St. Martin.  Gruchmann set this music to texts by Sulpicius Severus, who knew St. Martin and had written his biography in the fourth century.  The string orchestra bridged traditional motives with more modern tonalities, supplemented by a percussion section whose main role seems to have been to make it all funky, but never overbearing (after all, this is religious music, in a way).  Russian soprano Alexandra Lubchansky gave the Latin texts full intonation, perfectly balanced with the orchestra and depicting the emotions of the scenes.

The final piece before the intermission was the world premiere of Gruchmann’s Wer vom Ziel nicht weiß (“he who does not know of the goal”), a poem by Christian Morgenstern – a piece commissioned by this Orchestra for this morning to serve as a bridge from Pfitzner to Schubert.  This was a little more jarring.  Lubchansky got more heated (without losing her wonderful tone) to assert herself with the rumbling orchestra (strings, six horns, and a tuba).  Worth hearing, and it did pull the morning along from Pfitzner to Schubert, but I’m not sure it spoke to me.  Pictures of Heaven (premiered in 2010) was better.  But it did demonstrate the versatility and creativity of Gruchmann and was well worth a listen.

Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Großes Festspielhaus (Salzburg)

Beethoven

This year marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven‘s birth, so we should be getting no end to his music.  That’s fine with me – the man was a genius who forever changed the course of music.  If I am sick and tired of Mozart and Tschaikowsky, whose music is nice but horribly over-performed, I will likely never tire of Beethoven.  Yet I realize the problem arises: what more can performances say with this repertory?

The Vienna Symphony Orchestra comes up to perform in Salzburg’s Great Festival House for a concert every two winters.  This year they came with their chief conductor Philippe Jordan, the Swiss in his final year with them (he is taking over as the music director of the Staatsoper this year).  My understanding is that Jordan and the Symphoniker have already done several cycles of the Beethoven symphonies for the last several years.  And while I suppose that has served as warm-up for this year, it does run the risk that these works become too routine.

Tonight, Symphonies #5 and #6 lacked freshness.  The performances were basically fine (although Vienna’s second-best orchestra, it is one of the top dozen in the world; Jordan is also an accomplished conductor of the 40-ish generation, even if not quite as exciting as his contemporaries Andris Nelsons, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, or Vladimir Jurowski, whom I would rate the most exceptional from that generation).  But they performed from rote, and added nothing special, making tonight’s much-anticipated performance somewhat of a disappointment.  The notes were there, it was Beethoven’s heavenly music, but I suppose I wanted and expected more.

The last time I heard the 5th, last year, Nelsons conducted the Vienna Philharmonic, in a somewhat edgier performance, following on the 4th (not the 6th, so an unusual pairing and way to appreciate both symphonies more).  I heard the 6th last in 2016, with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla frenetically leading Salzburg’s Mozarteum Orchestra, in an interpretation clearly designed to make the listener uncomfortable, and remind us that although today it seems a rather sedate work, the 6th shocked the music world in its own time as a revolutionary construction.  Her interpretation, though radical, made the audience appreciate the symphony that much more.

Incidentally, Jordan and the Symphoniker did demonstrate they could provide more excitement during the encore: the overture Beethoven wrote to the incidental music for Goethe’s Egmont.  This reading contained the drama the performances of the two symphonies lacked.

The orchestra performed the symphonies in reverse order – the same order in which they appeared on the program at the concert where Beethoven led their premieres.  Although a concert of legend (mostly due to people thinking about it after-the-fact), that 22 December 1808 concert did not go so well: the orchestra was under-rehearsed, and Beethoven himself conducted although already mostly deaf.  Doing just the two symphonies this evening, even with the encore, made for a short concert.  I suppose if this orchestra wished to do something special, they could have scheduled the entire program from 22 December 1808: it had included not only the premieres of these two symphonies, but also excerpts from Beethoven’s Mass in C (premiered the previous year) and the premieres of the Piano Concerto #4 and Choral Fantasy.  Performed right, reviving that famous concert would be an evening to remember Beethoven’s genius.

Volksoper

Kálmán, Gräfin Mariza

The Vienna Volksoper can usually be counted on to spin out Viennese operettas in their natural habitat.  This performance of Gräfin Mariza by Imre Kálmán was idiomatic, if not particularly special in any way.

The (Viennese) director took the decision to move the action to the 1920s, around the time the opera had its premiere.  This proved neither helpful nor unhelpful.  It did change some of the context, but as the dialogue is traditionally flexible they adjusted, and included nothing too extreme (thankfully not a German opera director).  What it meant, however, was a nostalgia for a period in which there had been nostalgia for an earlier period, which itself may not have existed.  So all rather wistful, I suppose – and maybe the bump in setting to the 1920s did not quite reflect that (although maybe there was now nostalgia for the 1920s as we enter the 2020s).

One new plot twist did not work:  Baron Koloman Zsupán was turned into an actor pretending to be Baron Koloman Zsupán.  But the whole point of using that name (and the plot line that explained it – which appeared in this production as well) was that Mariza invents a fictitious fiance, and names him after a character in Johann Strauß II’s Zigeunerbaron, assuming such a person does not exist, only to have a real Baron Koloman Zsupán see the announcement and present himself, this disrupting Mariza’s ruse.  To make this into a an actor on top of that actually removed the humor, not added.

One major bit of dialogue did not work: traditionally in the third act, a stage actor performs what is mostly a stand-up routine (sometimes improvised, but even if prepared in advance then a chance for the comic actor to ham up the plot even more.  In this case, as happens often enough in the Volksoper in recent years, the intendant of the house, Robert Meyer, himself an accomplished comic actor, took on this task.  I like Meyer, but here he flopped completely.  In this version, Penižek, the servant of Princess Božena, is identified as a theater critic she picked up at the theater and engaged as her “mimic” (since in this version she had so much plastic surgery she could not move her face, so Penižek had to provide expressions for her – something else that was just odd.  As a theater critic, he continuously turned his lines into references to the names of various plays.  This was not punning, just a bunch of names.  If it was cute at first, it quickly became tiresome, and seemed never to end.

On the whole, however, the cast was fine.  I think it has actually been a few years since I have seen one of the classic operettas (Strauß – Lehár – Kálmán) at the Volksoper, so the singers on their roster have all changed up since then.  The only one I recognized was Juliette Khalil as Lisa (I had seen her in Benatzky’s Axel an der Himmelstür in 2016), who also had the best voice and stage presence.  The rest of the cast (in addition to Khalil, the lead quartet included Caroline Melzer as Countess Mariza, Carsten Süss as Count Tassilo, and Jakob Semotan as Baron Koloman Zsupán) was perfectly adequate if not special – which essentially sums up the whole production.  Conductor Karsten Januschke kept things going in the pit.

Volksoper

Mozart, Don Giovanni

Question: What does cannibalism have to do with Mozart’s Don Giovanni?  Answer: nothing.  Indeed, what did anything on the Volksoper stage this evening have to do with Don Giovanni?  Also nothing.

The less said about the inept German opera director, Achim Freyer, the better.  If he’s into kinky cannibalism, then I am sure I read in the news reports every couple of years that there are some dark web sites in Germany that will oblige him.

Not only did the staging have no discernible relation to the plot, but it was extra busy to the point of distraction.  The stage hands were wandering around the whole time rearranging things (starting to do so even before the first note of the overture – they couldn’t set the stage up in advance before they opened the curtain?  Really?  Obviously Freyer was trying to make some point here, but what it was is beyond me.  And why the stage hands in street clothes had to be constantly in view moving props – big and small – around was also unclear).

The language of the opera was also confused to the point of distraction – it was performed partly in Italian and partly in German, with no clear reason for the choice of one or the other (often changing mid-line, sometimes dialogues and sometimes arias or set pieces, with all of the characters going back and forth throughout, so not even a logic of certain characters being “Italians” and others “Germans”).  Incidentally, the German version was not even the standard Hermann Levi performing version (that is arguably as good a literary performing version as da Ponte’s Italian original text), so again Freyer made a choice and chose strangely.

The female leads were good, particularly Manuela Leonhartsberger as D. Elvira, but also Kristiane Kaiser as D. Anna and Theresa Dax as Zerlina.  The men less so (they often had difficulty projecting).  Alfred Eschwé led a complete-sounding orchestra with just enough lightness, color, and Viennese charm – if sadly not enough to compensate for Freyer’s mess on the stage.

(And for the prurient who need to know: the cannibalism appeared in the final scene, the morality scene after the final banquet, where tonight the rest of the cast, and a few audience members who got dragged on stage as well, consumed Don Giovanni’s corpse.)

Bruckner Orchestra Linz, Großes Festspielhaus (Salzburg)

Bruckner, Aho, Miki, Strauss

The Finnish composer Kalevi Aho wrote a “Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra” – premiered in London in 2012.  This evening, the Bruckner Orchestra of Linz and its music director Markus Poschner brought it to Salzburg’s Great Festival House, with soloist Martin Grubinger.

Grubinger describes himself as a “multi-percussionist,” which seems apt having seen him perform this work.  He and a few stage hands set up what must have been at least thirty different percussion instruments across the front of the stage, and he ran around for over half an hour playing all of them (the orchestra’s own three percussionists each got several of their own to play too!).  I cannot say I am sure about the logic of the concerto: it was oddly tonal, and with so many sounds (not all from European orchestra instruments – some borrowed from other musical traditions) it constantly had something new to say.  But the entire concept escaped me, so I instead focused on watching Grubinger run around and make all this music, which was itself exhilarating.  In that sense, maybe Aho’s logic was only providing a platform for a “multi-percussionist.”  (Figure skating came to mind: I can appreciate the skill and athleticism of a figure skater, but it’s not a real sport – that takes nothing away from admiring the skater, but skating is no more a sport than ballet is, yet whereas no one considers ballet a sport some people insist figure skating is a sport; so I am not really sure this was a concerto, but it was one amazing performance).

After a huge ovation, Grubinger returned to the front of the stage, and he, the stagehands, and the orchestra’s three percussionists removed many instruments, rearranged others, and then brought still more out.  The four of them then performed an encore: another crazy piece for percussion only (lots of percussion only), with the glue being Grubinger (mostly) on the marimba (subsequently identified on the Kulturvereinigung’s website as the Marimba Spirtual by Minoru Miki).  It was all nuts, but so much fun.

The concert opened with the Overture in g minor by Anton Bruckner.  Written when he was almost forty, it nevertheless definitely counts as an early work – he was still the organist of the Linz Cathedral at the time, and had still not composed any symphonies (not even his student ones).  This piece he stuffed in a drawer after he wrote it and never intended it to see the light of day.  There were only two known copies – one ended up mostly in the archives of a nearby abbey (part went missing), and the other ended up with a friend.  It was first published and performed long after his death.  A hint of Bruckner’s future style can be gleaned from the work, but otherwise it is not much of anything other than a curiosity.

After the intermission came Ein Heldenleben by Richard Strauss.  Poschner decided on an expansive reading – indeed, the other orchestra he leads, the Orchestra of Italian Switzerland (which he has also brought to Salzburg), is barely bigger than a chamber ensemble and so he must luxuriate in having a proper-sized band in Linz.  The problem is that this orchestra was not good enough for his interpretation.  At the opening of the piece, the right and left sides of the orchestra were strangely out of time with each other (not by much, but by just enough to make the whole thing sound warped) and by the time he got them playing all together they just settled into a formless blur.  Their ensemble playing generally came across full but not lush, and the individual lines lacked virtuosity, generally undistinguished mushy playing.  There were also more missed notes in the winds than there should have been.  This is the provincial orchestra of Upper Austria, one province over – and so the logical comparisons should be to Salzburg’s Mozarteum Orchestra to its west and the Tonkünstler Orchestra of Lower Austria to its east, both of which are far superior to the one from Linz.

But that multi-percussionist…!

Mozarteum Orchestra, Mozarteum

Weber, Wagner, Mendelssohn, Berlioz

I just spent a surprisingly unfulfilling evening with the Mozarteum Orchestra under music director Riccardo Minasi.  The orchestra actually sounded great… so I suppose I’ll need to blame the uninspiring mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich.

Aldrich appeared for two sets, closing both halves of the concert.  In the first part, she sang the Wesendonck Lieder of Richard Wagner.  Initially, her voice came out coarse, marking a contrast from the wonderful warmth of the orchestra.  She gradually settled into it, but never quite captured much of the emotion.  She closed the concert’s second half with the Death of Cleopatra by Hector Berlioz.  Now her voice was fully ready, but the songs dragged.  Part of this may be the songs themselves: Berlioz wrote them to conform to the expectations of a French jury in order to win a five-year stipend in Rome.  Since the French generally don’t seem to understand music (and had repeatedly rejected Berlioz before – he was probably far too creative and consistently talented a composer to be understood by his countrymen), I might mark this down to Berlioz intentionally writing dull music.  Might a better vocalist have done more with it?  Perhaps, but perhaps not.

The orchestral selections came out better.  The concert opened with two pieces by Carl Maria von Weber: the overture to his opera Euryanthe and the funeral march and overture he wrote for Schiller’s play Turandot.  I do not believe I had heard the second one before, but it was instantly recognizable since Hindemith wrote his famous variations on it.  The concert’s second half opened with The Hebrides by Felix Mendelssohn – if not quite as evocative as the performance I heard of this concert overture (more like a tone poem) by the Philadelphia Orchestra in October, the orchestra still gave us a treat with gorgeous solo lines rising from a full-bodied ensemble.  More of that and less of her next time, please.

Stadler Quartet, Salzburg University Orchestra, Landesjazzorchester Salzburg, various soloists, Mozarteum Solitär

Weinberg

Moishe Weinberg would have turned 100 today.  So the final concert of the Weinberg 100 Festival in Salzburg lasted almost four hours.  In part this appears to have been a complete miscalculation by the organizers, who seem not to have estimated how long the program was, and indeed unnecessarily added pieces to the original program (in some cases repeating music already performed during the five-day festival).

The venue this evening was the Solitär auditorium in the Mozarteum Conservatory – a hall I had not known existed (I assumed most of the conservatory’s in-house concerts would take place either in the Mozarteum’s Great Hall or for chamber music in the smaller Viennese Hall, but they’ve obviously relatively recently constructed a sparkling-new 300-seat auditorium).  The acoustics and overall conditions were far better than in the horrible basement auditorium we suffered in on Thursday evening, and this let me reevaluate some performances repeated both evenings.  So, for example, the Salzburg University Orchestra – the amateur group loosely connected to the university – actually held its own this evening (again under Silvia Spinnata) with violin soloist Alexandra Seywald also improving incrementally, to produce a wonderful Concertino – a work that deserves to enter the standard repertory of concert violinists (maybe Seywald can help on that count, bringing her compelling performance to future orchestral concerts, as Gidon Kremer has).

The Sonata for Solo Contrabass performed partly on double bass (by Verena Wurzer) and partly on contrabasoon (by Eddie Bartlett) also came off much better – especially the case for the contrabassoon, which simply did not resonate in the auditorium on Thursday (Wurzer succeeded in producing a good sound on Thursday, but was also far better this evening).

And the 16-year-old Philipp Huber returned with the Piano Sonata #6 – but we had the opportunity to hear him perform that in the Mozarteum’s Viennese Hall yesterday, and so he already had a chance to shine in a good hall.  I’m not sure I needed to hear this piece three times in five days.

The Stadler Quartet also repeated the String Quartet #4 they had performed on Friday in the Salzburg Synagogue.  They have been perhaps overworked throughout the five days (no one has performed as much as they have), and looked like they were tiring.  Friday’s performance was better paced, more intimate, and fresher.

The only other repeat performance was the children’s chorus singing three selections from Children’s Songs opus 139 – the same three they sang yesterday.  Yesterday they were a festive introduction to the concert – today they were misplaced.  Maybe they would have once again provided a festive opening, but they were instead scheduled for several hours in, and when the organizers looked at their watches and realized it had already passed the bedtime of some of the youngest chorus members, they moved them forward in between Huber’s main piece and his encore – at about 9:45 p.m.

As for the works that we had not heard before: one commonality tonight was a sense of song (without vocals – rather instruments doing the singing, supported by Weinberg’s complex accompaniments).  The concert had opened with the Stadler Quartet performing the Aria for String Quartet opus 9, composed in the composer’s period in exile in Tashkent, which set the mood.  Immediately following (and before Quartet #4) came a sonata for Clarinet and Piano, opus 28, with Ferdinand Steiner accompanied by Per Rundberg.  And between the Concertino and Piano Sonata #6 came a sonata for cello and piano, opus 63, with Mikhail Nemtsov accompanied by his sister Elena Nemtsova.  Both of these sonatas contained the customary amount of intellectual craziness we now expect from Weinberg.  The Nemtsov siblings probably got the flashier piece, and completely deserved the biggest applause of the evening from a thrilled audience.

At the end of the concert came the circus.  As Weinberg’s formal music was often suppressed by the communist regime, he made his living writing more popular forms – such as for films (one of which I saw on Wednesday, the festival’s opening evening) and for the circus.  The Salzburg Regional Jazz Orchestra – a recently-founded youth group – did the honors this evening.  What was completely unclear from the announcer (unidentified person in a hat who seemed to have some connection to the jazz orchestra, although what connection was unclear) was whether the arrangements made especially for this evening’s performance by this group jazzed up non-jazz music, or whether Weinberg actually wrote some pretty jazzy music to be performed at the circus.  I would have thought that for a composer out of favor with the regime and already in danger of being purged (he was indeed purged once and Schostakowitsch had to rescue him), jazz might be too “western” and he would have stuck to something more sedate – the program notes suggested “variety music” and dances deriving from Viennese waltzes and similar, possibly jazzed up a bit (as Schostakowitsch had done – although the program does not mention that Schostakowitsch’s attempts did not go over too well with the authorities).  I was curious about Weinberg’s circus music, so stayed to the end, but am not sure I got any answers.

Mirga Gražynitė-Tyla, one of the organizers, announced at the end that they may try to make a Weinberg Festival into a regular occurrence in Salzburg.  Maybe we can get his 21 symphonies next time, or his seven operas…

Stadler Quartet, Mozarteum Viennese Hall

Weinberg

The lobby of the Mozarteum’s Viennese Hall completely thinned out after the first concert of the evening.  I thought maybe people were going for coffee or a quick Würstl, since there were no refreshments on hand in the Mozarteum today.  But, much to my surprise, the audience mostly did not come back, and the second concert was sparsely-populated.  This was a great shame, because this was definitely the best concert in the entire festival so far (and probably will beat tomorrow’s too).

The Stadler Quartet again did the honors and got top billing, performing two more of Weinberg‘s quartets, #7 at the start of the concert and #3 at the end.  I’m still unpacking these two: absolutely gorgeous music, with so much going on.  There were only four instruments in the quartet, but it felt like a whole orchestra was on the stage from the complexity and fullness of the sound.  Combine the brilliance of Schubert’s quartets with Mahler’s Weltschmerz and Schostakowtisch’s desolation, and then add an extra does of Jewish humor, and maybe that at least hints at the mood here.  Quartet #7 opened with what sounded like what would happen if someone started crying uncontrollably while copying out a Schubert quartet, smudging the ink badly, and then someone else tried to perform the result.  Schubert had reached the pinnacle of the Fach, and his quartets were brilliant for his day, with so many lines and twists, and in a sense Weinberg carried that tradition forward but in his own style.  And if the second movement of the quartet #3 carried all of the tragedy of the end of Mahler’s ninth symphony, Weinberg did not leave it there but instead revved up for a dance in the third and final movement.

To fill out the program (as the odd trio had done last night), placed between these two quartets came Weinberg songs (with the intermission in between the sets).  These too had a bit of a Schubertian derivation, at least in the singing line if more complex in the piano accompaniment.  Before the break came the a cycle of songs setting to music the poems of Yevgyeny Baratynsky.  Afterwards came a setting of an elegy by Friedrich Schiller.  Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair had a warm, wonderful, expressive voice – clearly a master of the Lied, supported by Gaiva Bandzinaitė on the piano.  Bandzinaitė recited (from memory) the German translation of the Baratynsky poems before the performance, and Holzmair read out the original German of Schiller (Weinberg had set a Russian translation) – better would have been to reproduce those in the program so we could follow along.

The songs made this second concert of the evening more Schubertian.  I would have liked to have heard two of the sopranos who sang on Thursday (Lubov Karetnikova and Alina Martemianova – both currently studying with Holzmair) repeat their selections this evening, since the performing conditions in the auditorium on Thursday were so sub-optimal.

Gidon Kremer, Mozarteum Viennese Hall

Weinberg

Day Four of the Weinberg 100 Festival featured two back-to-back concerts in the Viennese Hall of the Mozarteum.  The first completely sold out, presumably based on the star power of Gidon Kremer, the soloist for Moishe Weinberg‘s first and second violin sonate.  Kremer may, to a degree, be indirectly responsible for this festival: he had become a champion of Weinberg’s music, and I believe it was through him (the Baltic connection – he’s based in Latvia and is active with chamber music across the Baltic states) that the Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražynitė-Tyla discovered and also championed it.  She was chief conductor of the Salzburg Landestheater at the time, and the Mozarteum Orchestra is the pit orchestra for the opera, and she also regularly leads the orchestra in concerts as well, and while she did not introduce Weinberg to the Salzburg public then, she is one of the drivers behind this festival, together with Mozarteum Orchestra concertmaster Frank Stadler, who fell for Weinberg’s music shortly after that.

At any rate, as for the music: I’m afraid I am not so sure about these two sonate.  Weinberg’s music is quite complex, but I find he does best with multiple lines weaving among each other in fascinating ways, and this is harder to pull off on one instrument.  Not impossible (and certainly Kremer has that talent), just harder.  So while remarkable music, and well performed, these two solo sonate just did not seem to speak to me.  Kremer added another work as an encore, but although repeating several times what it was he kept mumbling it so that everyone sitting around me looked at each other shrugging our shoulders – I think I understood that it was a work Weinberg wrote for his friend the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, which Kremer had transcribed from cello to violin.

The rest of the concert contained (good) filler, works being performed elsewhere during the festival, which did not need to appear on the program again and could have been substituted for other Weinberg works.

Philipp Huber, one of the student pianists on Thursday, returned to perform Weinberg’s Piano Sonata #6, which he also played on Thursday and apparently (according to the program but not the original schedule) will play again at tomorrow’s concert.  The conditions this evening were much more conducive to hearing his performance than in that awful auditorium on Thursday, and so today it was possible both to hear Huber’s enormous talent as well as grasp the sense of the two-movement sonata he performed.  Huber is 16 years old, and certainly belongs in the adult surroundings of the Mozarteum’s Viennese Hall, showing excellent self-confidence for a not-easy work.  That said, I wish Weinberg had orchestrated this work, as it would be a great improvement to hear it on more than a solo piano (not Huber’s fault – he was excellent and now I look forward to hearing him perform it again tomorrow).  Huber added as an encore the movement from the opus 16 piano cycle he performed as part of the train of student performers on Thursday, and again the better setting this evening gave him more confidence and stage presence.

Gražynitė-Tyla had opened the concert in the midst of the Children’s Chorus of the Salzburg Festival and Landestheater, with three excerpts from Children’s Songs opus 139 – Russian-language adaptations of Jewish songs, a fun way to start the evening. We’ll hear them again tomorrow, too.

Stadler Quartet, Salzburg Synagogue

Weinberg

The third evening of the Weinberg 100 Festival took place in the Salzburg Synagogue.  In one sense, this was an appropriate venue for music by someone whose tragic life was defined by his Jewish identity: the Nazis murdered Moishe Weinberg‘s family, the Soviets murdered his wife’s family, he was purged, and although he was saved through the intervention of Dmitri Schostakowitsch his music was suppressed in the Soviet Union and virtually unknown outside it – all because he was Jewish.  On the other hand, it is Shabbat, and attending a concert in an active synagogue on Shabbat just felt a bit odd (there are no Friday evening services in Salzburg, and never a minyan for Saturday morning, and maybe 30 or so Jews in the entire city none of whom is particularly religious, but it’s still an active synagogue).

Tonight’s concert of music by featured two quartets masterfully performed by the Stadler Quartet, sandwiching a trio for flute, viola, and harp.  Quartet #8 opened the evening – the same one the Stadler Quartet had included in a concert this past February. It began by piercing the soul with tragedy, moved on into some almost-klezmer inspired humor, which it then deconstructed.  The different lines moved along and returned in new places, intersecting each other.  Listening to Weinberg’s music requires intellectual gymnastics and an innate Jewish ability to combine humor with tragedy.

The Quartet #4 closed the evening.  Written in the closing months of the Second World War, Weinberg gave it a wartime program, depicting the approach of war, invasion, mourning, and ultimately happy memories of childhood and hope for a better future.  Schostakowitsch, who had in 1943 succeeded in bringing Weinberg from his exile in Tashkent to Moscow and had become the younger composer’s mentor, clearly inspired this war quartet.  But Weinberg gave it perhaps more devastation than even Schostakowitsch managed in his music (even considering that Schostakowitsch also had his snarky humor – Weinberg’s humor wasn’t snarky, through, it was more a coping mechanism to survive).  The Stadler Quartet experienced a little hiccup in the first movement, but by the time we got all the way through to the end of the piece it was forgotten.

In between the two quartets, Vera Klug (flute), Sarah Maria Dragovic (viola), and Ingeborg Weber (harp) performed the bizarre trio – composed much later, in 1979.  It partly struck me as having the same problematic as the quartet #12 that the Stadler Quartet played last night, which showed too much influence from lesser composers.  According to the introduction this evening, Weinberg drew inspiration for the opening of the trio from Debussy, and that may indeed be the explanation.  It was thankfully not as bad as anything by Debussy, but it was also not a substantial work, until the third movement.  The third movement clearly owed its inspiration to Mahler.  But Weinberg’s music is best when he charts his own course, and I am also not sure that with this particular three-instrument combination there is even much of a course to chart.  That said, Dragovic and Weber were quite good and facile with the difficult score.  Klug, on the flute, did not have a pleasant tone.

Stadler Quartet, Salzburg University Orchestra, soloists of the Mozarteum Conservatory, Musikum Steinway Hall

Weinberg

The second evening of the Weinberg 100 Festival in Salzburg proved somewhat zanier, with a three-hour-long mix of chamber works arranged chronologically (but certainly not thematically) from 1943-1971, and a hodge-podge of performers, professionals and amateurs (some probably future professionals) as young as 9 years old.  All of this took place in a non-ideal auditorium in the basement of a music school (Steinway Hall of the Musikum), where the lights in the rooms emitted different (and out-of-tune) humming noises audible over quieter passages.  This was an awful venue which I did not even know existed (and now know to avoid so I never have to hear a concert here again).  Some of the works on this program will be repeated (by the same performers) on the weekend in better halls, so this was in many ways a dress rehearsal.  If I was going to skip any concerts in the festival, I would have skipped this one – however, the music of Moishe Weinberg is so rarely performed, I figured I should go.

Of the pieces which will not repeat this weekend, the one that interested me the most was the String Quartet #12, performed by the Stadler Quartet.  I probably need not have worried.  Weinberg fled his native Warsaw in September 1939 and was not allowed to return until 1966.  He wrote this piece after that trip, under the influence of Polish composers Witold Lutosławski and Krzystof Penderecki, whom he spent time with there.  Neither of them had anywhere near the talent Weinberg did.  Where Weinberg’s works were musically-grounded and intellectually brilliant, his Polish colleagues produced gimmicks.  Sometimes the gimmicks worked (or were interesting enough to want to at least listen to in small amounts), but they were not in Weinberg’s league.  This string quartet suffered from the association.

Three song cycles, based on Jewish poetry (respectively opus 13 in Russian, opus 17 in Yiddish, and opus 57 in Polish) worked much better, drawing out feeling and emotions.  The first and the third of the soprano soloists were quite good: Lubov Karetnikova (she would seem from her bio to be an ethnic Russian from Lithuania, although born in the US) and Alina Martemianova (from Moscow, she trained at the Galina Vishnyevskaya Opera Center overlapping the time I lived in Moscow, although I don’t remember hearing her perform at the Center), both now based here in Salzburg.  They made tremendously expressive portrayals of the songs (Vishnyevskaya’s distinctive style seems to have rubbed off on Martemianova as well).  The soprano for opus 17, Brazilian Ornella de Luca had trouble with pitch, and had a tendency to shriek, so was far less pleasant.

A train of very young students performed a movement or two each from a piano cycle (opus 16, with movements from opus 19 and 23 interpolated into it).  The kids were fine, but I just cannot get myself excited about solo piano music (not everyone can be Khatia Buniatishvili at the Festival this past summer).  So how good was Weinberg’s piano music?  Hard to say.  I’ll hear one piece – his opus 73 sonata – again on Sunday with one of these child pianists.  Maybe I’ll like it more under better conditions.

As for the other pieces I will hear again this weekend, the best one was his Concertino for Violin and String Orchestra opus 42.  The chamber orchestra was not especially great, a local amateur outfit (the Salzburg University Orchestra – which despite its name is not restricted to students or faculty of the University but open to pretty much anyone – under the baton of Silvia Spinnata).  But they were also fine, and this is not one of Weinberg’s most difficult works (it’s one I do own an excellent recording of, so I already know and like the piece, and am familiar with it in a performance by Gidon Kremer and his own chamber ensemble, which is just not a fair comparison).  This evening’s violinist, Alexandra Seywald, a native of Salzburg, captured the warmth of Weinberg’s piece (which is really just a violin concerto, maybe only slightly smaller in concept than most, but still requiring the thoughtful playing that Seywald offered).

The final work of the evening, which will also repeat on the weekend, was the very peculiar Sonata for Solo Contrabass.  Actually, the work was brilliant: who writes solo music – and good solo music at that – for the bass?  The first three and last movement were performed by Verena Wurzer on a double bass, and for the fourth and fifth movements Eddie Bartlett performed on the contrabassoon.  The double bass was the better instrument, with much more complex sounds, including overtones, providing a fuller experience; the contrabassoon on its own just tended to go splat.  Would a worse double bass player and a better contrabassoonist have switched that around?  Hard to tell (I’m not sure Bartlett was not good, he just did not manage to make this work as a solo).

I suppose after three hours I left scratching my head wondering what I had just experienced.  The Weinberg works I had experienced before this evening were invariably stimulating.  I don’t know how much of this evening’s selection did not rise to that standard because the performers were not always up to the same level I am used to with this music, or because the auditorium was terrible, or because maybe these were not entirely Weinberg’s better works (other than the Concertino, which I was already familiar with).

Stadler Quartet, Das Kino

Weinberg

Composer Moishe Weinberg would turn 100 this coming Sunday.  That would not normally merit much more than a footnote somewhere… except that he is the best composer of the Twentieth Century that almost no one has heard of.  I have mentioned before that I discovered him accidentally about five years ago while reading (I’ve also mentioned his tragic backstory before), and was curious enough to look up some of his music online.  I became hooked, and searched out and bought a whole stack of CDs expecting I would probably not get much opportunity to hear his music live.

Some others have also discovered him, including violinist Gidon Kremer, who brought a fair amount of his music to a series of concerts at the Musikverein during the Vienna Festival Weeks a few months after I made my discovery.  I had tickets… but then had to cancel and missed what I assumed was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.  One piano quintet appeared on the program of the Salzburg Festival in 2016.  But where could I hear more live?

The rising star conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla seems to have caught the bug from Gidon Kremer.  And then Frank Stadler, concertmaster of Salzburg’s Mozarteum Orchestra, discovered him as well.  Stadler presented two Weinberg chamber works (a quartet and a trio) at a concert I attended last winter, for which Gražinytė-Tyla made the journey to Salzburg to hear from the audience (and Stadler invited her on stage to provide some words of introduction).  And the two of them hinted they might do more together this Fall.  Last month that meant Gražinytė-Tyla conducting the Mozarteum Orchestra for Weinberg’s second symphony.  And now we have a mini Weinberg Festival, presented by Stadler and Gražinytė-Tyla, performing a selection of Weinberg’s chamber music over five days, culminating in his birthday on Sunday.

The opening event in the series came this evening: the 1957 film The Cranes Are Flying by the Russified Georgian film director Mikhail Kalatozov (born Kalatozishvili), a landmark of Soviet cinema.  Weinberg wrote the film music.  High quality film music indeed.

Before the film, we got a lecture about Weinberg from University of Salzburg Professor Karl Müller (from which I learned that in 1939 Weinberg, then at the Warsaw Conservatory, had been accepted to study composition at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia… before his life’s tragedy began, so it never happened; in typical fashion around here – welcome to Austria – the Professor originally referred to the “German invasion of Poland” but then decided to rephrase himself, backing up and clarifying that he should have said “Hitler’s invasion of Poland by means of (‘durch‘) the German army” as though Hitler acted alone and the poor Germans – and of course Austrians – could not do anything to help themselves.  There are too many of these thinly-veiled Nazi apologists around here.)

After Müller’s talk, the Stadler Quartet performed Weinberg’s Capriccio opus 11, written in 1943 from his exile in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, shortly before Schostakowitsch, who had discovered his talent, managed to get him brought to Moscow.  It started off sounding like a rather routine classical string quartet, and then went absolutely haywire, combining musical jokes with a degree of melancholy, with periodic classical lines weaving in and out.  Although an early work, it indeed demonstrating the talent that made Weinberg such a curious composer.  His music is not big (this is just a chamber work, of course, but his symphonies too have intimacy), and it is also well-rooted in classical tradition, but it has several levels of complexity, making it an intellectual delight to listen to in addition to just being beautiful music.  Where some composers may just repeat formulas, and others may forget they are writing music in the interest of doing something different, Weinberg managed to shatter convention without forgetting the transformative nature of good pleasant music.

I’m looking forward to the concerts on the coming days.

Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Großes Festspielhaus (Salzburg)

Grieg, Mozart, Rossini, Þorvaldsdóttir, Sibelius

Yesterday evening, the first snow of the year fell in Salzburg.  This evening, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra arrived in the Great Festival House.  Coincidence?

The concert included mostly Nordic music, for which this orchestra obviously has a natural affinity.  Their overall tone came off a bit thin for a full-sized orchestra, mostly an odd lack of undertones which made the icy upper registers sound somehow less full.  Under the baton of Daníel Bjarnason, their first guest conductor (they are apparently between music directors at the moment), they also played hesitantly at times – knowing well what they were doing but lacking confidence.  They sounded nice overall, but if they had just played more robustly they might have made a bigger impression.

The concert included five excerpts from Edvard Grieg‘s incidental music to Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt, Aeriality by Icelandic composer Anna Þorvaldsdóttir (a moody piece utilizing percussion and double basses to creative effect, which seemed to be building to some sort of climax, but just as it almost erupted into a chorale about ten minutes in decided not to and carried on without resolution for another five minutes), and the Fifth Symphony of Janne Sibelius (and Sibelius’ Valse Triste as an encore at the end of the concert).  After the Grieg and before the intermission, Croatian hornist Radovan Vlatković joined the orchestra for the Horn Concerto #3 by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart, which came across as odd among the Nordic surroundings.  Vlatković performed fluidly, but had a somewhat cold tone – was he mimicking the Nordic sound, or is his horn just sour?  Mozart’s horn music should be much warmer.

As an encore before the intermission, Vlatković and five Icelandic hornists managed a much warmer sound full of good humor: a little piece for horn ensemble by Gioachino Rossini.  No conductor for that one meant they played much more confidently.  While nothing seemed out of place for Bjarnason, I do wonder if that made the difference.

Mozarteum Orchestra, Großes Festspielhaus

Weinberg, Brahms

I still cannot believe I was unaware of the existence of Moishe Weinberg as recently as five years ago.  Now I plan my schedule to incorporate rare performances of his music.  One of the greatest composers of the 20th Century, he was first championed by Dmitri Schostakowitsch (who served as a mentor for the younger Weinberg, but admitted Weinberg may indeed have been more talented).  One of his most recent champions is the brilliant young Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who led the Mozarteum Orchestra this morning in his Second Symphony.

Scored only for string orchestra, this Symphony produced rich complexities which combined the intimacy of a sting quartet with the full-bodied sounds of a symphonic work.  Multiple lines (even among instrument groups) weaved in and out throughout the three-movement symphony, capturing vast sonorities sometimes almost delicately.  The first movement strung together a series of dances, but warped by the aftermath of the Holocaust (Weinberg was the only member of his family to survive – when he wrote this in 1945-46 in his Moscow exile he may still have been unaware of their fate but presumably knew it could not have been good).  The bleak second movement may have been too bleak even for the Russians, and may be the reason the Soviet authorities suppressed this symphony for nearly two decades (they did not permit it to have its premiere until 1964, a fate which often befell Weinberg’s works and which contributed to his oblivion despite his enormous talents and the high quality of his music at so many levels).  The moods of the first two movements combined to form the finale, but rather than rehash, Weinberg found new themes and tonalities, particularly in expansion of pizzicato to set the music on edge.

Under the impulse of Gražinytė-Tyla and the Stadler Quartet (formed by Mozarteum Orchestra members led by the concertmaster), there will be a Weinberg Festival in Salzburg in early December to mark the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth, featuring a good selection (by no means anywhere near complete) of his chamber music.  It has not had much publicity (Gražinytė-Tyla alluded to it but gave no details when making some introductory remarks at a concert featuring Weinberg’s music performed by the Stadler Quartet last Spring), but a few (not many) fliers were lying around in the lobby of the Great Festival House this morning, and I am now figuring out how to plan my schedule to get to as many of the performances as possible.  I’d say others should do the same.

The novelty and creativity of Weinberg’s work overshadowed the program’s main advertised piece, which came after the intermission: Brahms‘ Requiem, perhaps that composer’s greatest and most monumental work, and certainly his most original.  Gražinytė-Tyla recognized it as a very personal work despite its size, and so rather than making it a giant piece (although there were indeed 150 performers on stage) with at times swelling fortes, she kept it intimate (not quiet in the big parts – suitably loud where that was necessary – just intimate).  For this work, the Salzburg Bach Chorus and soloists Günther Haumer and Robin Johannsen (she a very late substitute – so late that not only did they not have time to put an insert in the program, they did not even print up pieces of paper to post at the entrance to alert concert-goers of the change) joined the Mozarteum Orchestra and Gražinytė-Tyla to make a balanced, sensitive, and emotional whole.