In the forthcoming issue of the magazine, I have a Salzburg Festival chronicle, as I have every October since 2003, I believe. How is that possible, since Austria is a verboten land for Americans? The festival has made livestreams available, in various ways.
Question: Is a “livestream” still a livestream when the concert is over but remains on video? I suppose so. We have long spoken of “live recordings.”
There is no substitute for being there, of course—wherever “there” is. But videos or livestreams have their advantages. You can see the looks on the faces of opera performers. Or the faces of conductors. I mention this in my forthcoming chronicle.
Here on the blog, I’d like to discuss a concert that does not make an appearance in this chronicle. It was an all-Mozart concert, which is not surprising for Salzburg: Salzburg, after all, is Mozart’s hometown. The concert took place in the House for Mozart. But 2020 is a “Beethoven year,” in that it marks the two-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of that composer’s birth. Salzburg 2020 featured a lot of Beethoven. But the hometown hero got his due.
Also, 2020 marks the centennial of the Salzburg Festival itself.
The concert I’ve mentioned began with Mozart’s C-minor Mass, which is par for the course: this canonical work is performed at the festival every year. I’m trying to be cute, though. The concert did not begin with the Mass in C minor, K. 427, known as the “Great.” (That is the one that’s performed with ritualistic devotion.) It began with the Mass in C minor, K. 139, known as the “Waisenhausmesse,” or “Orphanage Mass.” Mozart wrote this piece for the consecration of a new orphanage church. He conducted the premiere: a choir of orphans.
Mozart was twelve, by the way.
By contrast, Mendelssohn was a man of sixteen when he wrote the E-flat Octet; Bizet was a veteran of seventeen when he wrote the Symphony in C. That the “Waisenhausmesse” came from the pen of a twelve-year-old is almost unbelievable.
The orchestra at the festival was the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, led by its conductor laureate, Ivor Bolton. The chorus was the Salzburg Bach Choir (which can obviously branch out from the master). Bolton is an Englishman, born in Blackrod, a town about six miles from . . . Bolton. The maestro holds a cluster of positions throughout Europe. He can be relied on for intelligent, tidy, lively conducting. And that is what he provided in the “Waisenhausmesse.”
First among the soloists was Rosa Feola, the Italian soprano. I have rhapsodized about her before—in a variety of repertoire—and must do so again. She was strong and pure, in equal measure. She was full-blooded yet clean and Classical. She sang freely but with obvious respect for Mozartean style. She was amazingly confident, for good reason. (She has much to be confident about.)
“For you, it’s like falling off a log,” I once heard Leontyne Price say to a student singer. She uses this phrase when she wants to indicate easiness in singing. I thought of it when listening to La Feola.
The alto was Katharina Magiera, a German, who did her part with dignity. The tenor was another German, Sebastian Kohlhepp, who was sweet and, in the Agnus Dei, plaintive. Our bass was from Slovakia. He was Peter Kellner, and there is, among other things, a nice glow in his voice.
As C-minor masses go, the orphans’ one will always live in the shadow of the “Great” one. But it is a remarkable, splendid work nonetheless, quite apart from the age of its composer.
Ivor Bolton then turned to another C-minor piece, but this one without voices. It was the Adagio and Fugue for strings, K. 546. The low strings of the Mozarteum Orchestra produced some fitting, wonderful growling sounds. For me, it’s always interesting—and pleasurable—to see Mozart look back to the Baroque. He does so in the last movement of his last symphony, doesn’t he? Even if he didn’t know the symphony would be his last?
(I am speaking of the “Jupiter,” with its mighty fugue.)
Reassembling the singers, Bolton ended the concert with another sacred work: Vesperae solennes de confessore, a miracle of a piece (but rather standard for Mozart). Its most famous and beloved section is “Laudate Dominum omnes gentes,” for soprano. As Rosa Feola sang, here and elsewhere, I thought, “This is not sacred singing or secular singing. Song singing or opera singing. It’s just singing”—which is a wonderful way to go.
Ivor Bolton clearly has Mozart in his head and heart. His conducting is both learned and natural. And he knows how to communicate all this to the musicians before him.
I will have more to say about this year’s Salzburg Festival—abbreviated and arguably brave—in coming posts.