Notes from the 2011 Salzburg Festival ( 12 ) – Camerata Salzburg 1

AustriaAustria Ives, Hartmann, Mahler, Mozart: Camerata Salzburg, Maria João Pires (piano), Kent Nagano (conductor), Mozarteum Grand Concert Hall, Salzburg, 12.8.2011 (JFL)

C. Ives: The Unanswered Question
K.A. Hartmann: Symphony No.4
G. Mahler: Adagietto
W.G. Mozart: Piano Concerto No.27 in B-flat, K.595

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Camerata Salzburg 1 • (Mahler Scenes 8)

Picking my program for Salzburg, the first of the Camerata Salzburg concerts with Kent Nagano and Maria João Pires was one of the two, three most immediate choices. With Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Fourth Symphony and Mozart’s last Piano Concerto (K.595 in B-flat) as the main ingredients, it virtually selected itself. When the—presumably sole—opportunity presented itself to attend the Riccardo Muti / Peter Stein Macbeth the same day, I faced a dilemma. Attend the show that was the hottest ticket of the summer, or go with where my heart was, musically? Even before I knew that I would get to attend an earlier performance of Macbeth after all (review here), I opted for Nagano-Hartmann-Pires-Mozart. If I figured after attending Macbeth that it was the right choice; I knew after the Camerata Salzburg concert that there isn’t any Macbeth I wouldn’t have missed this concert for, and gladly.

It started with Ives’ Unanswered Question, a work impossible not to be moving. The space of the Mozarteum’s Grand Concert Hall had the solemn strings sit on stage, not outside, and the four answering woodwinds segregated to the back. The questioning trumpet went around the outside of the hall, from door to door, until it didn’t get an answer to its seventh question.

Elephant Graveyard of String Quartets

Ruined to fame by Bernstein & ViscontiKarl Amadeus Hartmann’s Fourth Symphony for String Orchestra sounds like the place where string quartets go to die. Its opening is instantly reminiscent of the opening of the Mahler 10th Symphony, but without the immediate bleeding-heart eruption that Mahler places after the reoccurring string laments. Instead the climax builds slowly, the textures are sparse and haunting, like an overwhelming, oversized string quartet for orchestra. The language is that of the post-romantic tonality that saw itself squeezed out of the Western classical repertoire—courtesy of the post war embrace of the avant-garde and complexity. The angular aspect of Hartmann’s music comes out in the second movement, rhythmically compelling like a Bartók quartet. Dark and narrative, like a walk through the scary forests of German fairy tale forests.

Mahler’s Adagietto was performed as a prelude to the Mozart Concerto, with Pires already sitting at the piano which gives a visual clue to how piano-like the rising harp figures are. Ruined to fame by Visconti and Bernstein, the Adagietto has become clad forever in the garb of mourning, associated with the solemn steps along the hearse. It was played like that—lingeringly, funereal—too, but ‘my Gawd’: how gorgeous that can be, at least or especially outside the context of the whole symphony. That’s not what the Adagietto is really about, but it worked well enough in this case, and taking it virtually attacca from the movement’s key of F into the B-flat (subdominant) of K.595, was a gimmick—yes, but one that worked very well, indeed.

Subject to the Swansong Industry

Jens F. Laurson It also gave the wistful air of hindsight to the Piano Concerto—Mozart’s last, as if it were the softly singing announcement of the composer’s leave-taking. Pires hits just the right (pardon) note between matter-of-factly playing (I love[d] Alicia de Larrocha for that) and unbleeding sentimentality: Classical restraint and a romantic-sensitive touch—to employ these wonderful, useful clichés—in tasteful, unmannered union. Her dynamic range roughly starts at mezzo-piano and ends at mezzo-forte, but her even, round tone is so sublime that it can make even constant mf sound sexy. It perfectly capped a concert that left one back into the busy post-performances streets of Salzburg with a feeling of gratification and elation. Ideal, in short.