You know that it is really warm in the hall when a special announcement before the concert is made apologizing to all the ladies in the house that the men in the orchestra will be playing without their suit jackets due to the heat. We in the audience, fanning ourselves incessantly, were only too happy to be forgiving, as the orchestra must have been fairly melting under the lights. Heinrich Schiff, face already flushed, mounted the podium, lifted his baton and brought a breath of fresh air into the auditorium with the first work on the program, Schubert’s Overture in C major “im italienischen Stile”, D. 591.

Camerata Salzburg © Christian Schneider
Camerata Salzburg
© Christian Schneider

Considering the time of its creation (1817), one would automatically assume that the “Italian style” has to do with construction, and that we would be listening to an overture with a quick first movement, a slow second and a sprightly third – as opposed to the French style, slow–quick–slow. In fact, this overture was in neither of these forms, having only two movements, the first Adagio and the second Allegro. There is, however, a very Italianate feel to the work. It is replete with flourishes, features playful themes in the Allegro full of triplets and syncopations, and includes a series of slightly surprising cadences to heighten the drama at key points. One could easily imagine the curtain opening on a Rossini-esque opera, full of melodrama and mistaken identity, following the final chords. Written while Schubert was still a student, the piece is a youthful gem full of the sunny South which began the concert on a good foot.

Next, Oleg Maisenberg joined the Camerata Salzburg for Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, and throughout the work both he and the orchestra seemed to have succumbed a bit to the inhuman temperatures. The performance was ever so slightly melted around the edges, at times lacking the crispness through the passagework and strict ensemble that Mozart requires. Maisenberg’s sound, however, is perennially gorgeous, like someone wrapped the percussive sound of the piano into a warm sheath of gold, and there were moments in the second movement that were so lovely and gentle that I wanted to take a bath in them. Where legato was called for he answered beautifully, though through the quick, forte passages (particularly in the first and third movements) there was a lack of ease, and occasionally it was difficult to find the true rhythmic center between Maisenberg and the orchestra. It was a bit of a struggle for everyone concerned, but a gorgeous one at that.

The highlight of the evening was Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5. Nicknamed the “Schicksalssymphonie” (“Fate Symphony”) thanks to a quote attributed to Beethoven by his friend and biographer Anton Schindler, it contains so much great music that it’s hard to know where to begin. The Camerata Salzburg, between the movements visibly suffering from the heat, pulled together and focused completely while playing – this is one of my favorite things about them. They combine the best elements of a chamber music ensemble with orchestral richness and it is always a pleasure to see them breathe as a unit. Schiff led them admirably through this massive work, right from the conflict-ridden first movement, in which the exposed oboe solo here felt sublimely suspended in time. The second, more peaceful on the surface – the exposed unison section in the strings was perfection – sounded occasional rumblings of trouble in the deep strings and winds; the third movement was fabulous, leading into the brilliant, triumphant finale.

Although it is nice to hear the more grandiose movements with a larger ensemble, the transparency and energy of the Camerata more than made up for their limited size, and they played with the body of a much larger ensemble. There were tiny imperfections, of course – a pizzicato section that had a few issues in the strings, or the accelerando at the very end, which could have worked a bit more organically – but all things (including the oppressive heat) considered, it was a highly enjoyable evening.