Every year, Mozart’s birthday is celebrated with a week of concerts in his home city of Salzburg. Although audiences are not permitted this year, the Mozartwoche’s digital incarnation boasts a glittering international line-up, including Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim and Cecilia Bartoli. It even scored a minor coup with the modern premiere of the recently discovered Allegro in D major, K626b/16, billed as “94 seconds of new Mozart”, played by Seong-Jin Cho. “Mozart lives – more than ever!” fizzed festival director, the exuberant Rolando Villazón.

Giedrė Šlekytė conducts the Camerata Salzburg
© Wolfgang Lienbacher

For this charming Saturday evening concert from the Mozarteum, the Camerata Salzburg performed a beautifully balanced programme with conductor Giedrė Šlekytė. The young Lithuanian was full of sunny beams and buoyant baton sweeps as she launched into the “Mannheim Rockets” that open the Symphony no. 31 in D major, the “Paris”. The Camerata is not a period instrument band – HIPsters would perhaps frown at the lack of antiphonal violins – but period trumpets and timpani aided a punchy sound, underpinned by a trio of double basses at the back of the platform. Šlekytė injected vigour into the outer movements, perhaps recalling Leopold Mozart’s dismissive comment that the French “must be fond of noisy music”. One could sense the orchestra tucking into its decibels with relish, but there was grace too, even if the central movement – here the 3/4 Andante option – felt a little mannered.

Renaud Capuçon and Gérard Caussé
© Wolfgang Lienbacher

The Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major is one of Mozart’s most sublime, sun-drenched works. The two solo instruments – violin and viola – never engage in fierce duelling; it’s more gentle sparring, like those couples who play tennis not to score points off each other but to see how long they can keep a rally going. Here, the friendly combatants were Renaud Capuçon and veteran viola legend Gérard Caussé, regular chamber partners over the years. There was a pleasing contrast between Capuçon’s satin tone and Caussé’s mellow richness. The players echoed each other’s phrasing with great care and much eye contact. If Caussé, now 72, doesn’t make the viola sing quite as fluently or freely as he once did, it matters little; at times almost bent double, he wove his viola lines with tenderness and wisdom. In the first movement cadenza, he and Capuçon seemed so enamoured with each other’s playing that time itself was suspended.

Rolando Villazón and Regula Mühlemann
© Wolfgang Lienbacher

Before the concerto, Regula Mühlemann sang the motet Exsultate, jubilate. Her light, soubrettish soprano was agile in the coloratura runs of the Alleluja, neat as a pin, and her top was shiny, but there were moments when her lower register sounded hollow. She was more at ease in the concert aria Nehmt meinen Dank, composed for Mozart’s future sister-in-law Aloysia Weber, and the aria “L'ameró, sarò costante” from Il re pastore, in which she was joined by Capuçon in an obbligato role. 

Capuçon and Caussé also snuck back onto the stage to join the Camerata for a surprise encore, the irrepressible Villazón making a cameo appearance to duet with Mühlemann in “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen”, a lovable Papageno to her warm Pamina. A pandemic can’t keep Wolfgang down… Mozart lebt!

This performance was reviewed from the Mozarteum video stream