Mozartwoche: January’s Peace

Winter view south-east from the Mönchsberg in Salzburg

By ANDREW POWELL
Published: February 15, 2016

SALZBURG — There is a pleasure in arriving in Salzburg with snow on the ground. Or maybe the word is reassurance: the city will be real, not a theme park; the people mostly locals, despite the hollowing out of property ownership here; the profile quiet, even intimate, affording a chance to connect with the past. Of Salzburg’s festivals, the snowiest inevitably is Mozartwoche, planned and manned by the Mozarteum to straddle the composer’s birthday, often by more than a week. Last year’s edition achieved a coup by returning horses to the Felsenreitschule, for Davidde penitente as realized by “French equine artist and theatrical genius” Bartabas; next year, managers Marc Minkowski and Matthias Schulz let Bartabas loose on Mozart’s Requiem (Mel Brooks having declined) and promise some thirty concerts besides, including three by the Vienna Philharmonic, with Haydn as “focus composer.”

Mozartwoche 2016, placing Mendelssohn in focus, opened Jan. 22 with spoken words lauding the long contribution of Nikolaus Harnoncourt not only to Mozart’s music but specifically to this festival, where he was again due to conduct before declaring several weeks ago his instant retirement. The packed day teamed Katia et Marielle Labèque with the Mozarteum-Orchester in the morning, continued at 3 p.m. with an András Schiff recital, and ended soberly with Mozart masses at the Großes Festspielhaus led by John Eliot Gardiner. Rewards were many, irritations few.

The matinee sorely needed a conductor to temper dynamics and coordinate the shaping of lines. Where was Ivor Bolton? It began with a Mendelssohn Trumpet Overture (MWV P2, 1826) that knew no piano. Next came Mozart’s E-flat-Major Concerto for Two Pianos (1781) and chronically clunky phrasing by the French sisters; this was redeemed somewhat by a neatly sprung Rondo. Quality rose with a still loud, yet spry, Schauspieldirektor Overture (1786), the music’s inventiveness laid out vividly. The teenage exuberance of Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E Major for Two Pianos (MWV O5, 1823), in conclusion, proved a good match for the Labèques; alas they then imposed a duo encore (and an insipid one, the last of Glass’s Four Movements for Two Pianos, 2008) to ruin our exit.

The Mozarteum’s Conrad-Graf-Flügel and Walter-Hammerflügel (1839 and 1782) stood side by side on the platform for Schiff’s recital. Mendelssohn came first: the Variations sérieuses (1841) and the F-sharp-Minor Sonate écossaise (1833), played on the later instrument with its charming pearly highs and fuzzy, attenuated lows. Schiff made inspired sense of the lines in both works and bound Mendelssohn’s ideas together expertly without shying from a breakneck pace where needed. The Walter’s clarity and evenness through the range made a stark contrast, its modest sound easy to settle into in this artist’s hands. Ideal tempos and immaculate voicing sustained Mozart’s late major-key sonatas, in C (für Anfänger), B-flat and D; the poise of Schiff’s playing overcame passing glitches.

Gardiner’s highly musical, not especially spiritual, reading of the Große Messe K427 (1783) closely resembled the adjusted Aloys Schmitt reconstruction he recorded in London decades ago. His crisp rhythms and airy textures, and the way these flattered the score’s abundant lyricism, seemed designed to please, as if Mozart had composed the truncated service just for today’s Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. From this listener’s seat, vocal soloists Amanda Forsythe, Hannah Morrison (sopranos), Gareth Treseder (tenor) and Alex Ashworth (bass) could not be seen or properly heard, but the choir, also mostly out of view, sounded disciplined. Orchestrally it was a performance with resilience, wary balances, individual style; veteran sackbuttist ‎Stephen Saunders managed to nod off during Forsythe’s Et incarnatus est, nearly losing his instrument off the riser’s edge. A horseless Mozart Requiem followed the break; for practical reasons we could not stay.

Photo © Tourismus Salzburg

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