The Camerata Salzburg is a chamber orchestra, and, naturally, they figured in the Salzburg Festival last month. They were conducted in a concert by Manfred Honeck, an Austrian who has long been music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Their program was Arvo Pärt, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (that Salzburger), and Richard Strauss, in that order.
Beginning the concert was the Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten for string orchestra and bell. Pärt wrote this shortly after Britten died in 1976. In this performance, it was lullingly sad, as it should be. It built, or swelled up, as it should. Honeck kept up an intensity throughout. Frankly, the music was not especially soothing or sweet (as it can be). I would go so far as to say it had an underlying anger. This was a most interesting, and effective, treatment.
The Mozart on the program was the Clarinet Concerto, which one of the composer’s biographers, Paul Johnson, regards as Mozart’s most perfect piece. Many people think so. It is a reasonable opinion (though the concerto has so much competition). The soloist with Honeck and the Camerata Salzburg was Daniel Ottensamer, a principal in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. So was his father before him. (Ernst Ottensamer.) Daniel’s brother, Andreas, is a principal with the Berlin Philharmonic.
They are the leading clarinet family in the world, if not ever.
Some years ago, in a public interview, I asked a well-known cellist whether he ever grew tired of playing the Dvořák Concerto. He seemed offended by the question. Of course not, he said. Do clarinetists ever tire of playing the Mozart? In any case, they have a perfect piece to play, a masterpiece of masterpieces.
In the performance from Salzburg last month, I was surprised by the tempo of the opening movement. It seemed fast to me. But then I thought, “Maybe this movement is taken too slowly, by others.” Mozart opera arias can get sleepy; so can middle movements of piano sonatas, etc. Before long, the tempo did not seem fast to me at all. It seemed natural.
One thing I appreciated about the performers in this first movement is that they were not treating the music as some holy object. The music had flesh and blood in it. Under Honeck, the orchestra played in a consistently lively fashion, with nothing rote or routine.
The soloist was confident (with much to be confident about). He put on an unusually wide dynamic range. He breathed in long, wonderful lines. In this performance, you could hear Mozart as entertainer, as crowd-pleaser.
This is not sacrilegious to point out, you know.
The Adagio, of course, has its transcendent quality. I was expecting a brisk tempo, based on the first—but it turned out to be rather leisurely. It was not too leisurely, however; it was close to the tempo giusto. The playing was song-like and emotional. I had to stop reviewing for a while—mentally—for a simple reason: I was spellbound.
Let me give you a quick aside: When Daniel Ottensamer is really “feeling it,” he squints or closes his eyes, like a rock or pop singer. He sways like a singer, too (and other musicians to whom breathing is vital).
As for the Rondo, it danced along, neatly. There was a speck of jazz in it—or looseness, if you like. I’m talking about a freewheeling, playful, quasi-improvisatory quality. What we heard was Mozart with his hair down.
Maestro Honeck and the Camerata Salzburg closed the concert with a late work by Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen, for string orchestra (twenty-three players, to be precise). In my view, you conduct this piece as you do Verklärte Nacht, the Schoenberg work. You let it flow, following the contours of the score. This is what Honeck did. In my view, this work requires beauty of sound, which these strings could not provide, in abundance. I would have preferred twenty-three of Ottensamer’s colleagues in the VPO—but comparisons are odious, or odorous.
Moreover, I must say I was watching a livestream, thousands of miles from the concert hall. So, this did not give the Camerata Salzburgers a fair test.
In closing, may I tell you a secret? I am in awe of Richard Strauss, the composer of Elektra, dozens of songs, and other pieces of the highest caliber. I have never loved, or even liked, Metamorphosen as I think I should. But I am working on it . . .