A Centenary Homage to Dutilleux and Delightful Mozart Performances

AustriaAustria Salzburg Mozartwoche (1) – Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Dutilleux: Alexander Melnikov (piano), Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée (conductor). Grosser Saal, Mozarteum, Salzburg, 30.1.2016. (MB)

Mozart, Symphony no.1 in E-flat major, KV 16

Mendelssohn, Piano Concerto no.1 in G minor, op.25

Dutilleux, Mystère de l’instant

Mozart, Symphony no.39 in E-flat major, KV 543

This year’s Salzburg Mozartwoche has allotted a special place to Mendelssohn, present in three of the five concerts I have attended or will. The centenary of Henri Dutilleux’s birth was also celebrated in this concert from the Mozarteum Orchestra and Louis Langrée. His Mystère de l’instant (1986, revised 1989), for twenty-four strings, cimbalom, and percussion – a clear echo of Bartók, unsurprisingly given its status as a Sacher work – received what seemed to me an impressive performance. I have rarely proved responsive to Dutilleux’s music, rather to my disappointment, given the number of people I know who admire it greatly. This, however, proved an exception. In ten (very) short movements, we experienced a vividly pictorial, albeit not only pictorial, drama-in-miniature. Balances were well judged throughout, all of the solos (be they cimbalom, percussion, or string) well taken. Rhythms were not only precise, but propulsive. The appearance of the SACHER cipher in the tenth movement, ‘Métamorphoses’, inevitably put me in mind of another, slightly younger French composer, whose music I know much better.

Alexander Melnikov had joined the orchestra for Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto. It is not a work I feel wild about, yet I have heard more compelling performances than this, especially from the soloist. A turbulent opening to the first movement had promised well. If very fast indeed, pretty hard-driven, the score arguably suggests that. Melnikov’s approach, however, seemed curiously static, a series of episodes that did not lead anywhere. His tone was a strange mixture of grand, old-style Romanticism, and inconsequential skating across the keys. I should have preferred everyone to calm down a little, but it was the lack of direction from the soloist that especially troubled me. That said, Melnikov handled the transition to the second movement well, although his strange detachment soon again had the upper hand. The Salzburg cellos, however, sounded gorgeous. The finale was even more po-faced, at least so far as the pianist was concerned. He efficiently despatched everything, with considerable tonal variegation; I was never moved, though, in a performance that seemed serious in the wrong way.

No one would claim Mozart’s First Symphony to be a masterpiece, but by virtue of being his first symphony, it holds an undeniable interest for many of us. This was a less warm performance than Karl Böhm used to give, but anyone would surely have expected that. It pulsed with life, the highly contrasting figures of the first movement given their due. Langrée’s smiles suggested he was enjoying himself. The slow movement was well-shaped, its textures well-balanced. What it lacks above all is melodic genius, but that is no one’s fault. A joyful and ebullient performance of the finale brought this first item on the programme to an impressive close, the movement over in the twinkling of an eye.

Anyone, however, who did not consider Mozart’s final E-flat major Symphony to be a masterpiece would be well-advised to give up on music completely. The opening E-flat chords inevitably brought The Magic Flute to mind, although equally, the development thereafter reminded us this was a very different work. The first-movement exposition clearly grew out of the introduction. (That should, but alas does not, go without saying.) Langrée had a few rather irritating agogic touches (especially upon repetition), but nothing too grievous. For the most part, direction was clear, the concision of the development section truly a thing of wonder. The concluding bars did what they should: properly triumphant, thematically integrative, resounding with an inevitability that would surely have made Haydn proud. The slow movement was well-shaped, taken at a relatively swift tempo, the minor mode episodes making a strong impression. Langrée was sometimes prone to exaggerated tapering off of phrases, but I have heard far worse. A graceful yet vigorous minuet made a strong case for being taken one-to-a-bar. Orchestral detail was always finely etched. The trio flowed nicely, whilst offering proper relief. Langrée’s tempo for the finale sounded effortlessly right, allowing everything to slot into place (which is not, of course, to minimise the achievement of that happening). It was full of Haydnesque purpose, whilst, in its characterisation and sheer drama, never permitting us to forget that this was the composer of the Da Ponte operas. I could find no fault whatsoever in this delightful finale.

Mark Berry

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