Herbert von Karajan Remembered at the Salzburg Festival


AustriaAustria Salzburg Festival (7) – Tchaikovsky and Brahms: Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Riccardo Muti (conductor). Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg, 15.8.2015 (MB)

Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D major, op.35
Brahms – Symphony no.2 in D major, op.73

This concert, dedicated by Anne-Sophie Mutter, the Vienna Philharmonic, and Riccardo Muti to the memory of Herbert von Karajan, took place on the date he traditionally reserved for concerts with that orchestra. (I assume that to have been on account of the Feast of the Assumption, which always catches me unawares in southern Germany and Austria.) Mutter had played this concerto thirty years previously with Karajan and the VPO in the Grosses Festspielhaus. I wonder how many in the audience then were again in the audience this year: quite a few, I suspect. Brahms’s Second Symphony was, of course, premiered by this very same orchestra, and this year’s Festival offered a number of works whose first performance the VPO had given.

Although there was much to enjoy and little to complain about, I could not help but ask whether there was a little too much of the memorial to the concert. There is more, much more, to music-making than excitement, but perhaps this tended a little too much to the ritualistic. Mutter’s technique was quite beyond criticism, but occasionally, I longed for something a little more surprising, whether from her or from the orchestra. That said, I could not help but enjoy the splendidly old-world sound of the opening tutti and Mutter’s response: rich and sweet. Vibrato and portamento were very much part of her palette, but not at the expense of centring the notes. Moreover, she could cut through the orchestra’s sound as if she were Martha Argerich. The opening of the Canzonetta was beautifully hushed, the audience the recipient of whispered confidences. Above all, it sang. And then, the mood was transformed in a musical flash with the coming of the finale. Structure was clear – and if it left a little to be desired, the fault surely lay with the work rather than the performance. Expansive and urgent as required, the movement might nevertheless have benefited from a little more earthiness at times.

Too much D major in a concert? For my ears, I am afraid so. But that was not the only problem with Muti’s Brahms. I am all for slower tempi, but the first movement was off the scale, apparently a slow movement. There is ‘autumnal’ Brahms and then there was this. It was interesting, but I should not want to hear it like that again in a hurry. Counterpoint in the development was unexpectedly forthright: something of a relief. Thereafter, things picked up, although there was a true slow movement still to come. That, the Adagio non troppo, was memorable especially for the VPO cellos at the opening: like liquid chocolate, darkly noble. Again, this was a grandly autumnal reading, but easier to take. The change of mood for the ensuing Allegretto grazioso was welcome. This was no less exquisite, but faster-moving, lighter too. Perhaps the greatest contrast was nevertheless offered by the finale: jubilant, although, quite rightly, not uncontestedly so. Brahms’s tale was told frankly, without fuss, and was all the better for it. A gloriously rich orchestral sound would surely have delighted the concert’s dedicatee.

Mark Berry


Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

  • UPDATED ONLINE NEWS! IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) PANDEMIC __________________________________
  • NEW! BBC Proms turns 125 years old – 17 July to 12 September 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera North in 2020-2021 – postponements and plans __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich 2020-2021 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Glyndebourne Festival Opera opens for a 2020 summer season __________________________________
  • NEW! Baritone Federico Longhi’s Rigoletto is part of Parma’s June Verdian renaissance __________________________________
  • NEW! 69th Wexford Festival Opera – 11 to 18 October 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Dresden’s Semperoper reopens with Anna Netrebko on 19 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal in 2020-21 __________________________________
  • NEW! LMP’s first UK chamber orchestra performances since Covid-19 struck __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Lieder Festival – 10-17 October 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Metropolitan Opera (2020–)2021 season update __________________________________
  • NEW! Royal Opera House announces first live concert since beginning of lockdown __________________________________
  • NEW! Semi-staged Das Rheingold on Deutsche Oper Berlin’s parking deck from 12 June __________________________________
  • NEW! A breath of fresh air: Opera Holland Park announces 2021 season __________________________________
  • NEW! Grange Park Opera’s 2020 Found Season – 4 June to 12 July __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2020 Salzburg Festival – 1 to 30 August __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival’s 2020 online series of concerts and talks __________________________________
  • The Singapore Symphony in 2020-2021 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Search S&H

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! We’ll be back! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra weathering the Covid-19 storm __________________________________
  • NEW! World Ballet School Day – inaugural edition 7 July 2020 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Longborough Festival Opera launches podcast and extraordinary generosity of the audience __________________________________
  • NEW! The Music Critics Association of North America Best New Opera Award to Blue __________________________________
  • NEW! Lincoln Center honors Pride with a light installation on its iconic plaza __________________________________
  • R.I.P. Dame Vera Lynn (1917-2020): Did we really need Vera Lynn during the war? __________________________________
  • NEW! What price Sherlock Holmes? __________________________________
  • NEW! BBC to show the ROH’s first post-lockdown performance and their other recent music news __________________________________
  • NEW! Woody Allen comes back fighting with a book and A Rainy Day in New York __________________________________
  • NEW! Educating Rita, says who? __________________________________
  • NEW! 2020 Three Choirs Festival – postponed __________________________________
  • NEW! Need to escape reality? Enter into the magical world of composer David Hertzberg __________________________________
  • NEW! BTHVN2020 – Beethoven anniversary goes into overtime __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month