Berne Symphony Orchestra/Mario Venzago at Stadtcasino Basel – Mozart Symphony No.25 & Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande – Alina Pogostkina plays Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto

Symphony No.25 in G minor, K183
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Pelleas und Melisande, Op.5

Alina Pogostkina (violin)

Berne Symphony Orchestra
Mario Venzago

Reviewed by: Rebekkah Laeuchli

Reviewed: 7 March, 2015
Venue: Stadtcasino Basel, Switzerland

Mario Venzago

A cheerful atmosphere filled the Basel Stadtcasino from the moment Mario Venzago entered. He and the Berne Symphony Orchestra appeared delighted to be performing.

Mozart’s Symphony No.25 (the ‘little’ G minor in relation to No.40/K550) was full of shifting characters and long arcs. Venzago was unafraid to employ rubato and sudden changes in dynamics to achieve a vivid rendering. The Symphony felt like a narration, with each instrumental section playing its role and each section of the score a plot-twist as part of a nevertheless cohesive reading, even though some details were lost. A richer variety in colour would have further elevated the performance. Venzago’s changes in tempo were often effective but occasionally jarring: in the Minuet the Trio section felt distinctly out of step with its surrounds. But the melody in the slow movement and sense of direction in the finale made for satisfaction.

Alina PogostkinaPhotograph:

Lack of colour was much less of a problem in the Mendelssohn. With Alina Pogostkina this was the highlight of the evening. The balance between soloist and orchestra was absolutely fantastic, Pogostkina completely absorbed in the music as a whole rather than simply in her own playing. Her pure tones alternately stood out from and interwove with those of the other musicians and the transparency and playfulness of the piece was well-suited both to her and Venzago. The performers’ enjoyment communicated itself to the audience.

Venzago’s affinity for stories and drama resurfaced after the intermission with Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande (1902-03), a symphonic poem based on Maurice Maeterlinck’s play about love gone wrong, revenge and death. It was composed before Schoenberg began experimenting with atonality and twelve-tone techniques. The piece is drenched in Wagnerian effects: leitmotifs, psychological drama, and the famous Tristan chord. Venzago gave the audience an introduction to make the complexity of the music easier to digest by playing musical examples and explaining the legend.

Considering the score is quite accessible this was not perhaps really necessary, but Venzago was well-intentioned. A hugely dramatic performance followed, with great swells of volume. Shades of piano and pianissimo were unfortunately missing and the enjoyment in the variety of instrumental colors had faded by the end. Musical overkill notwithstanding there remained the pleasant memories of Mozart and Mendelssohn.

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