Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Salzburger Zeitung - 2013 - Second Edition

Dateline:  May 20, 2013:

I first saw this skyline when I was 19 years old - in the intervening 47 years
this view has never ceased to give me a small thrill of satisfaction.

Well its been a busy few days since we arrived in Salzburg. Fortunately we arrived a day early and settled into our usual room at the Hotel Bristol - the Tuscany. There had been a few changes in decor but it was still the same comfortable room we had enjoyed on our previous stay.  And though there have been some changes at the Bristol there is much that is familiar: Herr Lackner is still the gracious host, Peter is still overseeing the restaurant and bar,  Florian is doing his usual wonderful job as concierge, the ladies in the breakfast room are welcoming and Gabor has our table in the corner of the Sketch Bar prepared and waiting after the performance.  I guess I'm just turning into an old fart who loves the comfortable and the familiar.

Our home away from home at the Hotel Bristol in Salzburg - the Tuscany.
And returning to the Bristol is like coming home.

It has also been good to see old friends like Dr. M. from Toronto at his usual table and people we recognize from other years and now exchange hellos with at the Mozarteum and Haus für Mozart.  And this year some new acquaintances have been made - the Schmids a wonderful couple from Salzburg who motioned us to join them on the terrace of the Cafe Sacher at lunchtime on a busy Whitsun Saturday.  Their son Benjamin Schmid is a well-known violinist and they regaled us with stories of their travels and his path to a career as a musician.  And just this evening we met a lovely couple from England who have suddenly discovered opera and are indulging their passion for travel and music in their leisure years.
Sidd and another distinguished guest of the Hotel Bristol.
The main topic of conversation amongst us has been the centre piece of this year's Festival _ Bellini's Norma with Cecilia Bartoli.  We were all in agreement - it was of a piece musically and dramatically and one of the most moving and riveting evenings spent at an opera in a long time.  It is an evening I am going to have to take my time and write about with some thought.

Saturday 18:  Musikalisches Opfer
Grosser Saal - Mozarteum: 1100

I've always loved the gold and white, slightly over-the-top Grosser Saal of the Mozarteum.
At times the seats may be a trifle uncomfortable and the room a bit overheated but the acoustics are remarkable. 

It is often possible to be in awe of the artistry and ability of both a composer and a performer but to find them emotional unmoving: I'm afraid that is how I feel about both Bach and András Schiff.  Bach is undoubtedly one of the greats of Western music and I would be a fool for thinking otherwise but as much as I can listen in admiration I find that I can't become involved with his works. I've tried – lord knows I've tried but it just doesn't happen – and emotional response to music can't be forced.

With Schiff I find much the same – he is one of the great pianists of our time and I would be a fool for thinking otherwise and on Saturday morning I sat in awe of what he accomplished in a programme of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. But I was left largely unmoved at the end of the programme. With the Festival theme of Sacrifice in mind he had chosen pieces in the Key of C minor.  According to the notes this is the key that has always been associated with lamantation - Johann Joachim Quantz, the flute teacher of Frederick the Great said that it is used for "the miserable affect".  Though he did admit that it could be used to  express "the affect of love, tenderness, flattery".  But also it could be used to express "an angry emotion, such as recklessness, rage and dispair".  Quite the choice there!

Another view of the beautiful Grosser Saal - one of my favourite concert venues.
So perhaps it is pushing the envelope a bit to maintain that Bach sacrificed to his art when he took it upon himself to meet Frederick the Great's challenge to create a six part improvisation on a theme the King had set out during Bach's visit to his court in 1747.   That theme from Musikalischen Opfer BWV1080 was to show up again at Monday morning's concert by the Mariinsky Orchestra in Sofia Gubaidulina's Offertorium.

Schiff's Bach was slow, reverential and frankly dull. A friend remarked in passing that listening to Schiff play Bach extended your life time by a third – I'm not sure how true that is but I certainly found the Ricercare a 6 more fascinating when Angela Hewitt played it a few months ago as part of her programme at the NAC.  With Schiff it had all the excitement of an exercise with Hewitt it had a sense of passion and commitment.

András Schiff accepts the applause of an appreciative audience at
sold out concert at this year's Whitsun Festival.

Schiff's Mozart is seen through his closeness to the Romantic rather than the Baroque and though again the artistry is impeccable only the Adagio of the Klaviersonate c-Moll KV 457 seemed to take wing.   Not so the Beethoveen Sonata op. 111. Here Schiff seemed to come into his own and the music had an emotional bite to it that made me aware that I was listening to a great pianist. There was real communication here and in the short Schumann piece he gave as an encore.  I only wish he had caught that fire a bit earlier.

Perhaps after the Italianate passion of the previous evening anything would seem a bit cool, perhaps even passionless but I had honestly hope for a bit more excitement from Schiff. What we got was an amazing display of artistry if not of heart.

22 May - 1813:  Richard Wagner is born in Leipzig. 

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David said...

I agree with you about Schiff (though not at all about Bach, as you know. We all have our blind spots). Curious to know, from you as from Laurent, what you made of the Gubaidulina.

A Florian we know well was a concierge in a Salzburg hotel but has now been whisked into a higher life by a very good and very well known bass friend of ours who is perhaps more guarded about it than he should be.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I hope the next time you stay there that Sidd's bust will be just as prominently displayed by the hotel as Sigmund Freud's is. I mean really, fair is fair.