By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Saturday, June 25, 2016

When Music-lovers In India Were Teleported To Mozartland

As if to make handsome amends for the ordeal which the far-too-modern Austrian Art Ensemble had inflicted on us in September 1991 (see Two Sad Stories Of Twin Steinways ), the Austrian Embassy in New Delhi invited a fine set of chamber musicians from Salzburg to give us a fascinating glimpse of Mozart's music in the last month of the Bicentenary Year.  And I was glad to offer them all  garlands of fragrant Indian flowers :-

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New Delhi

6 December 1991

Rewarding encounter

As the Bicentenary Year of Mozart's passing away draws to a close, the music-lovers in New Delhi . . .  had a rewarding encounter with the Salzburg Mozart Soloists, thanks to the initiative taken by the Indian Council of Cultural relations and the Austrian Embassy.
Salzburg, of course, was the place where Mozart was born (1756) and grew up as a prodigious pianist and composer.  This group, it is said, has been privileged to perform in the very baroque state rooms which used to be frequented by Mozart.  One couldn't ask for better credentials.

The spacious Kamani Hall was full, testifying to the gradually increasing public response to Western classical music n New Delhi. The cognoscenti in the audience sat in grim and frowning silence when many of us clapped after every movement.  But let us face the facts :  we Indians do have our own way of showing our appreciation or encouraging the musicians;  and let it be so, as long as we do not bring our casual concert manners to the Western front!  It is something like the admirable way the Delhi Music Society always offers even visiting artists from abroad lovely garlands instead of lifeless bouquets wrapped in cellophane sheets. 

This chamber music group consists of eight musicians.  There was nothing exciting about the way the concert began :  four of them played Mozart's Quartet in E-Flat major (Kv. 493), featuring the piano, violin, cello and  viola.  This is not one of Mozart's outstanding works by any chance.  It is even thought to be a routine stereotyped piece, and is not very popular in Europe.  But it is perfectly polished and symmetrical, and was rendered competently.  It did set up the atmosphere, anyhow, creating a mood of high expectations.

What followed, however, was not the answer to our prayers.  It was a short work by Erich Urbanner :  String Quartet No. 2 (two violins, viola, cello).  No one has heard (or heard of) Urbanner in this city before this :  the best that could be said about the piece was that it was urbane (pun intended!).  During the intermission, we were all still waiting for the Salzburgers to offer some vibrant, full-blooded music of Mozart's.

They did precisely that in the second half of the concert, which was entirely devoted to a single lengthy work by the master :  the Divertimento in D-Major (Kv. 334).  All the musicians of the group except the pianist took part :  Gabor Vadasz and Martin Herb (violins), Josef Schneider (cello), Werner Christof (viola), Wilhelm Schwaiger and Dieter Binniker (horns), and Rudolf Harlander (double bass).  And the way it was performed, this number turned out to be something worth waiting for -- not just for an hour in the concert hall, but all through the Bicentenary Year in this remote city.

Silk and velvet 

Although Mozart's Divertimenti (23 in all) are not generally considered to figure among his most important works, this one (Kv. 334) is something special.  It is the very last of them in chronological order, and has certain features which were forward-looking in Mozart's times -- such as the striking harmony between the horns and the strings.

What we heard on this occasion was music of exceptional beauty and clarity.  The violins and viola had a silky texture, the frequently-plucked cello and double bass produced a throbbing pulse ;  and the occasionally intervening horns dripped with honey.  They all blended beautifully to create a velvet-like tone -- exactly what we expect to find in the legendary composer's chamber music.  Truly, for a while the audience was teleported to Mozartland, from where came the musicians.

A bouquet -- sorry, garland! -- to the pianist, whose high caliber too was never in doubt.  Her name is as long as the Divertimento we heard --  Maria Michaela Cuvay Schneider.  What was really missing in the concert was perhaps a Piano Sonata by Mozart -- which would have given her also a chance to shine brightly, and added still greater value to our marvelous musical experience.

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