The Chamber Orchestra of Europe Soloists play Mozart in Salzburg with distinction and affection

AustriaAustria Salzburg Mozartwoche [1] – Mozart: Chamber Orchestra of Europe Soloists. Grosser Saal, Mozarteum, Salzburg, 25.1.2020. (MB)

Mozart – Divertimento in B-flat major for two oboes, two horns, and two bassoons, KV 270; Divertimento in D major for two violins, viola, double bass, oboe, and two horns, ‘Nannerl Septet’, KV 251; Divertimento in E-flat major for two oboes, two horns, and two bassoons, KV 252/240a; March in D major, KV 290/167AB and Divertimento in D major for violin, viola, double bass, bassoon, and two horns, KV 205/167A

Malin Broman, Maria Bader-Kubizek (violins), Pascal Siffert (viola), Enno Senft (double bass), Sébastien Giot, Rachel Frost (oboes), Jasper de Waal, Beth Randell (horns), Matthew Wilkie, Christopher Gunia (bassoons)

There are worse ways to start the day than with four Mozart Salzburg divertimenti: all the better when performed in Salzburg and with such distinction and evident affection as was brought to them by soloists from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. The B-flat major Divertimento, KV 270, proved an especially delightful way to open the concert, its opening Allegro molto buoyant, bubbly, yet grounded. Interaction between different pairs and groups of instruments was faultless and lightly generative, revealing an already astounding capability for balance between harmony and counterpoint on the part of the twenty-year-old composer. Like a fine glass of sparkling wine, it proved to be over in a flash, yet lingered longer than one might ever have expected. The following ‘Andantino’ was likewise all too brief: a courtly perambulation – development, no mere contemplation – through a garden of delights. All that was missing – well, perhaps not quite all, yet near enough – to transport us to the world of Così fan tutte, or at least the later piano concertos, was clarinets. The Minuet danced, without being reduced to ‘a dance’, its trio relaxing just the right amount. However many the notes, the musicians hurtled through the ‘Presto’ finale without a hint of fussiness or harrying. Natural fizz, one might say.

Claudio Abbado made an excellent case for playing the ‘Nannerl Septet’ with orchestra; but there is, of course no need. (Not that we need ‘need’; results speak for themselves.) Its opening movement was graceful yet directed, cultured strings offering lovely antiphonal response to Sébastien Giot’s magical oboe. Eminently ‘symphonic’ one might say, though perhaps that would give the wrong impression: better to think of it as taking its place in the myriad of eighteenth-century sonata writing. An ear-catching minuet had its charm and character – not least Enno Senft’s double-bass solo line – brought out from within: nothing, thank God, was applied to the music. The third movement sang with apparent insouciance, yet there was unquestionably more beneath the beguiling surface: Mozart in a nutshell. Another minuet and variations proved beautifully contrasted, both with that and with the minuets that had gone before. The more one listens, the more one appreciates the riches of early(ish) Mozart one might once have overlooked: at least, that is, in a performance such as this. Many clearly assumed the ‘Rondeau’ to be the final movement, applauding at its close. One can understand why, up to a point, and it did not harm. But the different turns Mozart’s music takes, delightful and surprising, even when one ‘knows’, perhaps hinted otherwise. It was not ‘symphonic’ at all, then – and all the better for it. After the short pause necessitated, the closing ‘Marcia alla francese’ emerged as a duly winning encore.

Following the interval, the opening movement of KV 252, an ‘Andante’, offered a lovely contrast, especially when played with such charm in balance and development. The second movement confirmed yet again what variety Mozart offers both players and listeners in his minuet-writing, Jasper de Waal’s horn solos here a particular delight. Mozart in Polonaise form benefited from a buoyant, splendidly responsive account of the third movement, leading to a finale no one would have doubted as such. We could tell where it was heading from the outset: now it was but a matter of enjoying the ride.

Finally came the D major March and Divertimento, almost certainly the oldest music, probably written in 1772 and 1773. Quite rightly, they were played with all the care, attention, and affection afforded to their companion pieces. The March emerged cultivated and variegated, quite without pedantry: there was always music between its phrases too. And what delight there was to be had here in horn interventions from de Waal and Beth Randell. This was music as light and as life-giving as air itself. The first movement of KV 205/167A proved a fine foil for what had gone and what was to come, heard with a grave dignity that again seemed to point to the composer’s later years. If, again, I could not help but think of Così, it was music of a different buffo quality that emerged from it; or was it? Yes, of course, yet a detailed, infectious performance ever beguiled and edified. The Divertimento’s two minuets were sprightly and spirited, once again ringing the changes; likewise their trios, clearly relished. In between, the extraordinary ‘Adagio’, for violin, viola, and double bass, gave the lie to any doubts anyone may have held regarding the instrumentation. One would never have known the potential difficulties in so graceful and ultimately moving a performance. The ‘Presto’ finale again revealed character both in genre and particularity, imbued with a well-nigh operatic drama in its turn to the minor. With Mozart, there is never a clear distinction between ‘dramatic’ and ‘instrumental’ music; why should there be?

Mark Berry

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