Bartók, Bruckner, Mozart: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Camerata Salzburg, Ben Gernon (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 15.3.2015 (SRT)
Bruckner: Adagio (arranged from String Quintet by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski)
Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5
Symphony No. 29
Hailing from his home town, you’d expect the Camerata Salzburg to have Mozart in their blood, and they gave a suitably winning performance of his Symphony No. 29, full of wit, warmth and a lovely sense of ebb and flow, with properly daring pianissimi in the slow movement, which moved with stately elegance. They chugged their way nicely through the opening movement of the fifth violin concerto, too, with a lovely bustle to the orchestral sound that the violin then seemed to tame on its first entrance, pouring lovely restraint on the busy opening before striding up the first theme with virile energy. Nicola Benedetti, always a favourite in Edinburgh, brought beauty and colour to the solo part, displaying the flair and affability that make her so popular here, and bringing such lovely cantabile tone that the slow movement sounded like an operatic aria. The rondo, then, was suave and graceful, with a touch of jocularity to several of the episodes and strident urgency to the “Turkish” sequence. That same good humour was brought to the C major Rondo K373, though here Benedetti seemed strangely tethered to her score in a way that she hadn’t been in the concerto. She finished, however, with a lovely Mother’s Day gift (her own mother was in the audience) of a little piece by Tartini that was full of warmth and sentimentality.
The Salzburgers showed their chops elsewhere with a piece that, in one way, seems like a world away from Mozart, but in writing his Divertimento Bartók was deliberately invoking the world of Mozart’s occasional music, as well as that of the Baroque Concerto Grosso, so the difference may not be as great as might first appear. This performance felt, appropriately, like a conversation between the full tutti sound and the small group of soloists who often answered it back, with pleasingly transparent textures and a lovely singing tone to the violins. The trademark dissonances weren’t smoothed over, though, and the passage where they crash into the centre of the first movement sounded like the wheels coming off a machine. I also liked the pained, almost tortured quality of the slow movement, contrasting with the sparky finale that sounded as though it had taken a tonic. They played the Bruckner with a lovely sense of the long-breathed line, too, but it wasn’t a satisfying arrangement: you didn’t have the intimacy of the string quintet but, with a small chamber orchestra like this, nor did you have the big Romantic sweep of the symphonies. Instead, this piece sounded like a rather unsatisfactory compromise.