A delightful celebration of Mozart’s birthday in Salzburg

AustriaAustria Salzburg Mozartwoche [4] – Mozart: Les Vents français (François Leleux [oboe], Paul Meyer [clarinet], Gilbert Audin [bassoon], Radovan Vlatković [horn]), Kodály Quartet (Attila Falvay, Ferenc Bangó [violins], Zoltán Tuska [viola], György Éder [cello)), Éric Le Sage (piano). Grosser Saal, Mozarteum, Salzburg, 27.1.2020. (MB)

Mozart – Trio in E-flat major for piano, clarinet, and viola, ‘Kegelstatt’, KV 498; Sonata in B-flat major for bassoon and cello, KV 292/196c; Oboe Quartet in F major, KV 370/368b; Horn Quintet in E-flat major, KV 407/368c; Quintet in E-flat major for piano and wind instruments, KV 452

What better way to celebrate Mozart’s birthday than with two concerts of his music in the city of his birth? The first, showing what a festival such as the Mozartwoche can do to go beyond the general run of subscription concerts, however distinguished, brought together members of two chamber groups, Les Vents français and the Kodály Quartet, alongside pianist Éric Le Sage, to present five works for differently constituted ensembles.

First, we heard Paul Meyer, Zoltán Tuska, and Le Sage in the Kegelstatt Trio, Meyer’s liquid tone an especial joy throughout. The work’s infinitely touching melodies and harmonies seemed to have their foundation in these particular instruments, the performance making it impossible to imagine them otherwise. Following an opening Andante of fine balance and character, work and performance alike seemed both to be balanced and intensified by a rich, courtly Minuet and its ever-surprising Trio, the heart of the work in more than one way. Occasional blemishes in the finale’s early piano passagework – there is nowhere to hide here – did not seriously detract from an account of this movement both charming and searching. It was good, moreover, to hear the viola offered an opportunity, splendidly taken, to shine too. True chamber music, then, concluding in a movement of heavenly length.

Even I should not claim the Sonata in B-flat major for bassoon and cello to be a masterpiece. Nevertheless, composer and performers, Gilbert Audin and György Éder, responded resourcefully. To hear such pure two-part writing offered contrast of its own, flowing performances drawing one in to consider implied harmony and counterpoint alike. The closing Rondo proved the high-point, its shift to the minor mode suggestive enough of depths one might not otherwise have suspected; the preceding Andante offered winning elegance too.

Cultivated, characterful playing marked the Oboe Quartet from its outset, the players navigating skilfully and revealingly implied boundaries, and lack thereof, between chamber music and mini-concerto. Éder seemed here to relish a less thankless role than in the previous work, but all players shone, a bubbly François Leleux first among equals. A sure test of successful sonata-form playing is whether everything has changed by the point of recapitulation; it most certainly had in this first movement, imbued with a freshness it was difficult not to consider, however hopefully in late January, as vernal. The pathos of the slow movement was neither over- nor underplayed, in an account that flowed, while retaining plenty of space to develop. It was a lament of considerable beauty, over all too quickly. High spirits and variegated texture characterised the finale every inch worthy of the name.

The Horn Quintet opened in similar yet distinct vein, light, shade, and their interplay splendidly apparent in the first movement. Its successors proved similarly euphonious, although both somewhat underplayed the import of Mozart’s shadows – at least until Le Sage’s reminder at the close. There could be no doubt, however, of the distinction of playing from all concerned.

That lack of something bolder was felt also in the opening movement of the Quintet for piano and wind instruments, though certainly not in its spacious introduction, unquestionably announcing a masterpiece. Perhaps it was more a problem of balance, for the recapitulation and final two movements were more sharply etched – and all the better for it. The slow movement, recalling that introduction, proved ideally balanced between vertical and horizontal impulses. Not for nothing was Schoenberg so devoted to Mozart’s navigation between the two. In its dramatic transformations, moreover, it seemed that an invisible stage opened up before our ears. The finale too, came close to ideal: ebullient, detailed, clearly directed, yet never hurried. There was always plenty of time in which to admire its crucial detail, wherever in piano figuration or the harmonies engendered by parallel wind trills. It was a delightful way to close a fascinating concert.

Mark Berry

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