The Camerata Salzburg’s evening of Mozart, Enescu and Vaughan Williams at Berlin’s Konzerthaus was a crisp and bubbling performance that stimulated the intellect as well as the emotions. Beginning the evening with George Enescu’s Two Intermezzi for String Orchestra, the Camerata swept audience members away into a world gone, but too lovely to be forgotten.

Hilary Hahn © Michael Patrick O’Leary
Hilary Hahn
© Michael Patrick O’Leary

A chamber orchestra based in Mozart’s home town with over 60 years of renown behind it, the Camerata Salzburg is currently led by Louis Langrée and is on tour with Hilary Hahn. The program conjured that lost 18th-century world of classical elegance and symmetry, with the two later pieces – the aforementioned Enescu Intermezzi and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending – only accentuating Mozart’s technical purity in the Third Violin Concerto and Jupiter Symphony.

Led by Louis Langree, the orchestra at times seemed to be having trouble filling the hall. The light playing may have sounded large in rehearsal, but the main hall at the Konzerthaus is huge, and at times the music was almost too subtle, leaving the audience wishing for a little more amplification. This lack of oomph was not due to the quality of the players, who later proved that they had no trouble filling the Konzerthaus. The piano sound was entirely due to Langrée’s conducting – he really ought to have let his orchestra go more than he did. As it was, the orchestra itself was pure of tone and bubbling with energy, but it was hobbled by the need to contain itself.

If the purpose of Langrée’s conducting was to rein in the orchestra and let Hilary Hahn shine, he ought to have known better: a consummate musician such as Hahn doesn’t need the orchestra to whisper to shine. Enough ink has been spilled decorating Hilary Hahn with laudatory epithets that one almost expects her to be less spectacular in real life than on her numerous recordings. Average human beings cannot possibly be better than a streamlined, edited studio recording, no matter how talented, right? Wrong. Because Hilary Hahn is not an average human. She is a goddess.

The woman seems to have been born with a violin in her hands. Her playing crisp and assured, Hahn wove her way through the Mozart and The Lark Ascending, swaying to the music like a dancer. Well-known for both pieces, Hahn played as though presenting the audience with a gift, as though she was saying, “Here, listen: let me show you how the composers meant this piece to sound”. There was no ego in her playing, just love of the music and the desire to make it as beautiful as possible. Vaughan Williams’ Lark soared and dipped over its English country abode, its movements mirrored in the violinist’s swaying. The concerto was cheery and elegant without ever sinking into the sometimes frantic good humor that often traps less skillful interpreters of Mozart. The Camerata acquitted itself well behind Hahn, matching her sophistication and clarity line for line.

The evening finished with a rousing performance of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, sometimes referred to, in Sir George Grove’s words, as “the greatest orchestral work of the world which preceded the French Revolution”. Whether or not that is true is open to some debate, but Langrée finally allowed the Camerata to play to fill the hall, and the result was sweeping, energetic and boisterous. This symphony is as chaotic as Mozart could get, and so perfectly lovely.

There were two encores: one for Hahn and one for the Camerata. Hahn played the Gigue from Bach’s Third Partita with all the comfort of one for whom playing Bach is like greeting an old friend. The Camerata played the overture from The Marriage of Figaro, the first time they really came alive that night. It was as though the musicians were all saying, “This is how we are meant to play: fast and bright and chipper!” The orchestra had the bit in its mouth and the famous overture was every bit as cheeky as Mozart intended it. The evening may have belonged entirely to Hahn (indeed, certain audience members were seen leaving the concert hall after she had finished giving the orchestra flowers), but the Camerata let it be known that they, too, are musicians worth listening to.

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