Sunday, 19 August 2012

Salzburg Festival (5) - Capuçon/Mozarteum/Bolton, 18 August 2012


Mozart – Divertimento in F major, KV 247, ‘First Lodron Night Music’
Mozart – Violin Concerto no.4 in D major, KV 218
Mozart – Rondo for violin and orchestra in B-flat major, KV 269
Haydn – Symphony no.103 in E-flat major, ‘Drum Roll’

Renaud Capuçon (violin)
Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra
Ivor Bolton (conductor)

An attractive enough programme, this, even if it looked a little as if it had been thrown together rather than considered conceptually. The Mozarteum Orchestra for the most part played very well, less hampered than one might have expected by the use of natural brass (though there were exceptions). Likewise Renaud Capuçon was on splendid form. One could have had worse than Ivor Bolton – for instance, most of his ‘authenticke’ confreres – but it was difficult to find anything that would not have been better done by a good number of other conductors, or indeed by none.

Playing the First Lodron Night Music one-to-a-part is a perfectly justifiable decision, though arguably a little perverse when one has an orchestra to hand. Whether, played in this matter, it benefits from having a conductor is another matter. Often the players seemed to be managing perfectly well without Bolton, whose sub-Bernstein flailing around appeared out of all proportion to discernible results. After a slightly worrying start, the solo strings showed themselves sensible with respect to vibrato; it would only really be when Capuçon  joined them that one realised what one had been missing. (I am not at all sure, however, why the programme claimed that the divertimento would be prefaced by the March, KV 248;  I find it difficult to believe that I somehow missed it in performance.)  Speeds were generally unexceptionable: one should give Bolton credit for that in an age when the general practice is anything but. The exception to the unexceptionable was the second minuet, taken at absurdly breackneck speed, almost overshooting the scherzo level. The two slow movements were nicely differentiated between Andante grazioso and Adagio, even if both might in other hands profitably have been taken a little more slowly. Harmonic motion, however, was conveyed far more successfully by the players when listening to each other than when observing Bolton’s direction. His conception seemed to be entirely sectional; indeed, it proceeded for the most part phrase to phrase.

Capuçon’s tone was as bright as his phrasing was sensitive. (And I certainly do not mean that as a backhanded compliment.) To all intents and purposes these seemed to be his readings, and were all the better for it, Bolton actually proving quite a supportive accompanist. Occasionally, I might have longed for a little more in the way of darkness, though especially during the slow movement of the fourth violin concerto, that was not absent. Cleanness of tone was never clinical; it was simply an indication that the soloist was able to play the notes – rarer than one might expect. That direction lacking in parts of the divertimento was certainly present here. Moreover, Capuçon’s singing tone imparted more of a sense of the serenade than had generally been afforded earlier. What a joy it was to hear the Rondeau played at a sensible tempo – it is marked Andante grazioso – thereby permitting passagework to sound brilliant without being garbled. Following the interval, the B-flat Rondo, KV 269, offered a lively, equally lovable pendant.  Capuçon has mastered that necessary quality of making Mozart performance sound like the easiest thing in the world when, as anyone who has ever attempted it knows, it is actually the most difficult. Rhythmic and harmonic understanding were as one, even – arguably, especially – during the cadenzas.

Haydn’s ‘Drum Roll’ Symphony would doubtless have been mauled far more by more exhibitionistic ‘period’ practitioners. (Though if the best one can say is ‘not very good’, as opposed to charlatan, the situation is far from rosy.) It is, by the same token, not difficult to imagine more absurd, attention-seeking interpretations of the drum roll itself, but again that is not in itself a commendation. Once again, the score, the first movement in particular, proceeded in sectional fashion. How I longed for the harmonic understanding Daniel Barenboim recently showed in his Proms Beethoven cycle. The slow movement, though taken fast, was acceptable enough, save for the perverse rasping noise inflicted by ‘period’ brass at high volume. There was still little sense, however, of how the movement might be considered as a whole, nor indeed of the sophistication of Haydn’s variation form. Somehow the minuet contrived both to be taken one-to-a-bar and yet also to sound sluggish; again, harmony is, or should be the key, here. The finale simply galloped along. Haydn is so very much more interesting than this strange quasi-reversion to ‘Papa Haydn’-type suggested. At least we can return to Jochum, Davis, et al. ...

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