Camerata Salzburg/Bonney/Collins, Royal Festival Hall, London
Monday 29 November 2004
Two concertante works and two symphonies made up Camerata Salzburg's delectable concert at the Royal Festival Hall.
Two concertante works and two symphonies made up Camerata Salzburg's delectable concert at the Royal Festival Hall. The Camerata is a chamber orchestra made up predominately of the fresh and youthful - and that's how they play. Mozart's "Exultate, Jubilate" is the work of a 17-year-old and although not, strictly speaking, a concerto in name, in effect it is a concerto for voice and chamber orchestra.
Barbara Bonney's voice may no longer be in the first flush of youth, but her artistry remains awesome. There to tell a story, she was obviously moved by the music before singing a note. This is a piece that, although notoriously difficult, risks hack performance. It is almost too well known, and yet a performance such as Bonney's returns it to its astonishing freshness. In three sections, it mirrors the structure of a concerto. The voice is frequently the melody instrument, the orchestra providing little cover and the soloist perilously exposed.
The first section embraces a wide tessitura, some notes now low for Bonney's voice, but in the fast coloratura she finely placed these difficult passages. In the slow second section, her "make hearts sigh" melted the audience; Bonney's ability to mix intimacy and display perfectly judged. Her gentle decrescendi as the notes rose and pianissimo on these high notes is a lesson in musical intelligence: understatement can often say so much more. And in the final "Hallelujah", she superbly managed the perilous heights; subtly colouring Mozart's uplifting score.
Bonney's performance alone would have merited skipping out with a light heart. But a second performer brought further spectacular treats. From the first high notes of Weber's Second Clarinet Concerto, the soloist Michael Collins was in effortless control. He, too, was a storyteller: whether operatically discoursing with himself or dancing insistently in brilliant, rippling passage-work.
In the soulful minor key of the Romanza, Collins wove a touching melancholic scena; the huge leaps from the bottom to the top of the instrument and the control in his soft playing at the top just mesmerising. And in the final Alla polacca, the sound of heel-clicking was almost palpable. Collins has a way of turning the mood of the music into something completely different in a split second; Weber's tongue-in-cheek seriousness rightly challenged. His astonishing final display of virtuoso brilliance brought uproar from audience and orchestra.
Commencing and concluding the concert were symphonies by Haydn and Mozart. In Haydn's 88th and Mozart's "Prague", lightness and swiftness of pace dominated the approach of the conductor, David Stern. In the slow movement of the Mozart, he adopted a deliciously lilting tempo, while "blue" harmonies were played tenderly by the face-to-face fiddle sections. What a treat to hear this fine band; classical music at its best.
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