Ignoring Mozart while visiting Salzburg would be a challenge: the music of the master resonates around its hills as an intrinsic part of the landscape. Camerata Salzburg could not have missed the opportunity to depict this landscape to Londoners in need to fly away. Nested in the warmth of Cadogan Hall, they brought life to Mozart's eternal music whose multi-faceted joy carried in its wake the British violinist Nicola Benedetti.

Camerata Salzburg with Louis Langrée © Andreas Hechenberger
Camerata Salzburg with Louis Langrée
© Andreas Hechenberger

They demonstrated a great appetite to play, not only by the smiles on their faces when arriving on stage – it could have competed with the lighting of the venue – but by the the bite of their bows in the opening Bartók and the enthusiasm of Ben Gernon's springy baton. Bartók's Divertimento for string ensemble was full of drive, energetic in its shapes and contrasts, except in the second movement; the Molto adagio failed to sustain the same intensity as in the two movements which framed it. The qualities of the Salzburg ensemble were best shown in the faster movements.

All the same, the Camerata showed full respect for the concerto grosso influence of Bartók's piece; every single section of the string orchestra was masterly steered by their leaders, whose soloistic abilities were equally shared, confident, with no vain emphasis. We clearly got a sense of rusticity in the last movement thanks to the eloquent violin cadenza in tzigane manner, mad pizzicati and committed pedal notes from the double basses, followed by a dizzy ending. Lower strings should be mentioned here, for the solid and expressive inner support with which they fed the ensemble throughout the evening. We could not wait to hear them in the Turkish theme of the violin concerto later on...

They did not disappoint at all as they literally slapped their strings with passion while Nicola Benedetti responded with a delicate and sugary sound. Throughout Mozart's Violin Concerto no. 5 “The Turkish”, her softness of tone was projected well enough to grab the attention, especially in the middle movement where she floated with great drama above the strings. She obviously enjoyed the easiness of her technique in the first movement aperto; her playing buzzed even more than the orchestra's – but it felt a bit rushed in places – and she rendered an exhilharating cadenza which proved we were faced with a gifted violonist. As a programmed encore, Benedetti bowed to her audience in the most elegant manner, tackling Mozart's Rondo in C with ease and mischief.

Bruckner Adagio for strings, the original slow movement of the String Quintet in F, could have been more moving. In this slow tempo again, the line slipped out of control, losing itself in a rather faint-hearted rendering. However the whole sound of the players, emerging as a single instrument, was so dense and warm that the loss turned into a pure acoustic delight.

Emotion and sound were reunited again in Mozart's Symphony no. 29 in A major, performed with great finesse. I could have guessed the Allegro moderato tempo marking of the first movement – it was poised, fluid, with a distinguished, somehow melancholic smile. The first violins settled into incredibly soft pianissimi in the second movement, allowing the winds – oboes and horns – to blossom above them in response. Their sound, especially the oboes, were deliciously creamy, and we greedily awaited their commentaries throughout. Having closed your eyes in the last movement, you could have sworn you were hearing bassoons instead of stormy basses. Open your eyes again and you witnessed the last tricks of a skilful ensemble.

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