Albéniz, Piazzolla, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Chapí
The Cadaqués Orchestra has come from Catalonia to Salzburg for a three-night visit with its chief conductor Jaime Martín (a Cantabrian, not a Catalan, for what it’s worth). Tonight’s concert and tomorrow’s have the same program, and Friday’s is different – so I have my Wednesday subscription ticket tonight and will hear them again for the other set on Friday. This was a nice little ensemble – only slightly bigger than a chamber group, but which played well together, and if sometimes a tad brash to overcompensate for the size, nevertheless produced a full sound. The woodwinds in particular characterized the overall sound.
Martín understands his orchestra’s strength, and this was best heard in the main work of the concert’s second half, the Third Symphony (“Scottish”) by Felix Mendelssohn. It was enlightening to contrast this idiomatic performance so soon after hearing the Mozarteum Orchestra perform Mendelssohn’s Fourth (“Italian”) recently. The Mozarteum Orchestra is better on the whole, but its brand new young chief conductor Riccardo Minasi has a tendency to get over-exuberant, rushing through the faster bits and lacking nuance – indeed, I wonder if Minasi understands harmony. Martín clearly does get harmony, drawing out the different lines – including all of the middle lines – across the instruments, so that we could hear the complexities but also one single complete sound. And while Martín took the fast bits quickly enough, he emphasized rather more stately tempos when needed, for an overall well-paced performance – and a real triumph.
This approach continued through two encores which followed: an intermezzo from Schubert‘s Rosamund (charming) and the overture to Ruperto Chapí‘s zarzuela La Revoltosa (witty).
That said, the first half of the concert did not succeed as well. The opening work – an orchestration of “Catalonia” from the Spanish Suite by Isaac Albéniz, gave a hint of what was to come, but was perhaps too short and abrupt to highlight this orchestra’s strengths, at least as a starter. It just made the orchestra sound a bit thin (is this orchestra even big enough for that orchestration, done by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos to perform with a larger ensemble?).
Worse though was the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires by Astor Piazzolla, in an arrangement for violin and chamber orchestra. I’ve heard this work – or individual seasons from it – rearranged for various combinations of instruments. No arrangement can disguise Piazzolla’s lack of talent as a composer, and it was this aspect that failed once again tonight. The logic behind this arrangement was that Piazzolla was apparently originally inspired by Vivaldi’s original Four Seasons, and so he hid bits of the Vivaldi in his new music, as well as what I am sure was Pachelbel’s Canon (I must admit to never having heard those direct quotations of Vivaldi and Pachelbel before when I have heard this work – maybe I’ve always been too bored by it to notice). The Catalans really should not have bothered with Piazzolla’s recycled garbage and just performed Vivaldi (and Pachelbel) in the original.
Except… then we might not have had the most excellent solo violinist, Leticia Moreno, who took Piazzolla’s music and made it worth listening to. This arrangement required a good deal of dexterity on the instrument, often more rough country fiddle than soothing baroque violin. But as if to show she could do the sweet tones as well, she came out for an encore with the orchestra – I’m not sure what it was (sounded sugary, more background film music than concert music), but she got the style down here too, a master of her trade. I’d love to hear her perform a piece that actually has musical value and doesn’t just require her talent to carry it.
I did have one quibble with this orchestra, though – they string section all breathed in unison, loudly. I was in my usual subscription seat up in the balcony (not close to the orchestra, but good acoustics) and kept hearing them breath clearly, all together, like a wind machine. This was truly disconcerting (no pun intended).