30 August to 14 September 2013 marked the second year of the mozart@augsburg festival, held both in and around the city. In this profoundly historic area (particularly with regards to its musical history), the aim of the organisers, Johannes Boecker and Sebastian Knauer, has been to establish a festival that not only provides a platform for music-making of an international standard, but that also goes towards reinstating Augsburg as a cultural, historical and artistic hotspot (it has been somewhat displaced by Munich in this respect). Thus the festival, as I came to realise, is best appreciated in context as an event that draws light on a city in which the Mozart family history can be well understood, particularly the sometimes pivotal circumstances from which Amadeus Mozart’s musical success arose.

Christian Tetzlaff, Lars Vogt and Tanja Tetzlaff at mozart@augsburg
Christian Tetzlaff, Lars Vogt and Tanja Tetzlaff at mozart@augsburg

In 2012 the festival organisers hit the ground running with a handful of first-rate names including Daniel Hope, Wu Han, Sir Roger Norrington, the actress Hannelore Elsner (as orator), and the Emerson String Quartet. This year, though the number of concerts had doubled, the high standards were nevertheless retained: the Artemis Quartet, András Schiff, Philippe Entremont, Jan Vogler and a host of other names came to perform in addition to those who had returned for a second year. Whilst the music performed is not exclusively by Mozart, Western European repertoire from the 18th and 19th centuries has formed the staple of the festival thus far.

It became clear from the palpable audience buzz before each of the three concerts I attended – the Artemis Quartet, and Sebastian Knauer playing Beethoven, as well as this evening’s recital – that there was a genuine hunger in the local area for such an event and that mozart@augsburg was satiating these cravings. Indeed, four of the ten concerts were sold out.

The venue for tonight’s concert, the Small Golden Hall – situated in the same building in which Leopold Mozart received his formative education – offered an impressive setting and sympathetic acoustics well suited for chamber music. Indeed, the title “Chamber Music Pearls” could have equally been “Fire and Brimstone” as the programme progressed into the 19th century. The piano trio certainly drew a solid, theatrical performance from Schubert’s D.898 and Dvořák’s Op. 65, and it was within these pieces that they seemed at their most free.

Mozart’s Trio in B flat major, K502, which began the recital, although good-humoured and delightfully nuanced, felt held back somewhat. Pianist Lars Vogt seemed to underplay the first movement, perhaps in an effort to maintain clarity within the ensemble, and Tanja Tetzlaff, whilst rarely offered a prominent cello line by Mozart, could have been slightly more present in moments that called for it. This was partly the result of her more mellow tone, which didn’t always blend with Christian Tetzlaff’s. However, by the end of the work all three musicians had relaxed into it, which was clear from their more broad and unified sounds.

To continue in this vein, it was obvious from the start of Schubert’s deceptively difficult B flat major Trio that the ensemble felt at home, both with each other and the music. There was immediately a broader dynamic range and, on another level, all three seemed to be allowing greater variety of colours, shades and nuances to shine through: a transparency of texture permeated the second movement, for example; floating, wispy strings and more sensitive blending. Vogt had also settled into his true musical nature, asserting some powerful bass notes in certain parts of the first movement that propelled the music forward. The rondo was the most successful – the various changes of character were forthright and the trio withdrew a sense of adventure and uncertainty as to what was around the corner. Absorbed in the performance, at times I forgot which direction the music was next to take.

The final work, Dvořák’s Trio in F minor, was both invested with a great amount of energy and balanced with control and intent. For example, the unison introduction from the Tetzlaffs, whilst brief, was finely unified, sounding almost like a single instrument: what they had lacked in the Mozart they had truly regained here. The finale was titillating in its dynamic chops and changes, with some beautiful sweeping solos from Vogt. At times, I would have enjoyed a touch more sparkle from the piano, although this is only a minor comment considering the technical demands of the part.

The length of the final applause was equal to that of one of the shorter movements played tonight, and justly so. These three musicians are fine performers of later, Romantic repertoire, and if I were to propose any change to tonight’s performance it would merely have been a more “meaty” alternative to Mozart’s KV 502. Charming though it was, it seemed to inhibit the trio’s more theatrical temperaments.

****1