Conducting Prizewinner Prior Gives Confident Performance with Camerata Salzburg

Salzburger-Festspiele_Logo_1373976878376931AustriaAustria Salzburg Festival (3) – Nørgard, Mozart, Sibelius, and Prokofiev: Elbenita Kajtazi (soprano), Camerata Salzburg, Alexander Prior (conductor). Grosser Saal, Mozarteum, Salzburg, 7.8.2016. (MB)

Per NørgardDream Play

MozartVado, ma dove? oh Dei!, KV 583

Sibelius – Suite: Pelleas and Melisande, op.46

Prokofiev – Symphony no.1 in D major, op.25, ‘Classical’

This was a curiously assembled programme, but since it was one of four concerts to be conducted by Nestlé and Salzburg Young Conductor prize winners, there may have been any number of practical reasons for that. Alexander Prior certainly knew what he was doing and how to get what he wanted from the Camerata Salzburg.

Per Nørgard’s Dream Symphony, not a work with which I was previously familiar, opened the programme. The opening was surefooted and colourful, the Salzburg woodwind especially fruity. Strings offered an added touch of overt late Romanticism, despite the work having been written in 1975, and a good few ‘wrong’ notes to spice up the harmony. There was great clarity to the performance, allied to a strong sense of forward momentum (at least where the piece permitted). The gorgeous acoustic of the Mozarteum’s Grosser Saal helped, and so did excellent playing, but Prior deserves a good deal of credit; he was clearly enjoying himself too.

Mozart’s insertion aria, Vado, ma dove? oh Dei!, benefited equally from warm, crisp orchestral playing (thankfully not a hint of the dread Roger Norrington’s tenure). Elbenita Kajtazi’s singing and the performance in general were operatic in a good sense: one could well imagine the piece doing – very well – what it was designed to do, lifting the work of a lesser composer (Martín y Soler). Kajtazi’s stylish, often thrilling performance left one longing for more. I certainly hope to hear more from her.

Sibelius’s smaller works have often proved more attractive to me than his (dreary) symphonies. Not really on this occasion, I am afraid, although again the performances were excellent. It was a long time since I had heard his incidental music for Pelléas and Mélisande; he comes a long, long way behind Debussy and Schoenberg, Fauré too. The audience generally seemed enthralled, though, and there was no doubting Prior’s commitment. The opening number was rich of tone, yet stark, clearly suggestive of the dark castle. The English horn soloist shone in his various solos, and there was a gloriously full orchestral sound to be heard from what, after all, is a chamber orchestra. The penultimate movement definitely had a ‘pastoral’ quality to it, prior to a duly grave conclusion.

I was a little puzzled by Prior’s rather deliberate direction of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, especially during the first movement, which dragged somewhat, at least to my ears. (I am not one generally to dislike slower tempi.) The Larghetto emerged better, sounding graceful, yet always retaining a sense of the longer line. I rather liked the held-back quality to the Gavotta too, which prepared a still greater contrast with the fleet virtuosity of the finale. There was no doubting here the aural glimpses (!) of the ballet composer to come.

Mark Berry

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