A Deeply Frustrating Salzburg Festival Concert from Camerata Salzburg and Lorenzo Viotti

19/08/2019

Salzburg Festival [4] – Bartók, Weber, Koncz, and Kodály: Andreas Ottensamer (clarinet), Camerata Salzburg / Lorenzo Viotti (conductor). Grosser Saal, Mozarteum, Salzburg, 17.8.2019. (MB)

Bartók – Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta Sz 106
Weber – Clarinet Concerto No.1 in F minor Op.73
Stephan Koncz – Hungarian Fantasy on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, for clarinet and orchestra
Kodály – Dances of Galánta 

A deeply frustrating concert, this: a fine orchestra and fine soloist, let down by odd programming and, more seriously, a conductor who only intermittently impressed. Mine, it is fair to see, was very much a minority view, the audience rising to give Lorenzo Viotti a standing ovation.

Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta opened with great promise, its first movement involving and intriguing. Musically, it was the highpoint of the concert, though the Weber First Clarinet Concerto, a considerably lesser work, could hardly be faulted in performance terms. Veiled yet clear from the outset, the Camerata Salzburg strings grew in muted – and then non-muted – intensity. Viotti guided them with skill and evident commitment, Bartók’s structure readily becoming form. There was a welcome physicality to the second movement, not only concerning rhythmic impact but of bows on strings: once again, the orchestra was on superlative form. Corners, however, were more of a difficulty, Viotti communicating little of how the movement’s sections were connected, a problem that only increased throughout this admittedly difficult work. Eerie ‘night music’ passages registered vividly in the third movement, which, to be fair, also generated a good deal of harmonic and dramatic suspense, so long as one listened only a section at a time. There was a welcome sense of the dance to the finale, or at least to its opening. Overall line, however, eluded me.

Joined by Andreas Ottensamer for the Weber concerto, the orchestra and Viotti gave what was overall their most satisfying performance. Some might have found Viotti’s moulding of the first movement’s Romantic drama a little much, but it was a perfectly justifiable aesthetic stance to take, evoking responses from Ottensamer both surpassingly virtuosic and intensely dramatic. Phrasing and articulation here and in the remaining two movements were splendidly judged, the slow movement characterised by deeply-felt lyricism, tone variegated without affection, the finale winningly propelled with an Italianate verve that may not have been especially profound, but which was very much in keeping with music that neither asks for nor requires profundity. For Weber music that does, we turn generally to the final three operas, a flash from which – Der Freischütz – opened Stephan Koncz’s Hungarian Fantasy on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. As a vehicle for Ottensamer’s virtuosity, it did its trick. Musically, it seemed to me quite without interest, mostly written in a language that would hardly have been avant-garde two hundred years earlier. Not everything need be Helmut Lachenmann, but it is difficult to imagine Weber writing straightforwardly in the style of Monteverdi, minus the content. It went on for too long simply to be a throwaway encore.

As for Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, they have their fans; I remain uncertain quite why. At any rate, they seem dangerous to programme alongside a Bartók masterpiece. Camerata Salzburg’s playing was again beyond reproach, impeccable in balance and blend, heft and subtlety. Viotti responded well to the needs of characterisation. I am not sure his habit of pulling them around did them any favours either, nor his placing emphasis so strongly on the ‘Romantic’ side. They are what they are, though, and the audience clearly enjoyed them, as it did the encore: a swashbuckling account of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance no.1 in G minor.

Mark Berry

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