Even given the venerable standards of the German/Austro tradition, the age and history of the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, which appeared in concert Tuesday night at Benaroya Hall, is notable. Its founding in 1841, by itself, gives the orchestra prestige, which it might not have otherwise. Simply to have survived the extraordinary cross-currents of culture and politics lends authority to the organization. So does its position in Salzburg, one of the most important cities in European musical life.
Probably quite wisely, the chamber ensemble of about 35 players, led by Ivor Bolton, concentrates on the First Viennese School, thus the program in its two-week American tour looks to Mozart, Haydn and Schubert. The centerpiece of the concert Tuesday was Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C, with the young German cellist Johannes Moser as the soloist. This is not the usual concerto in D Major but one, which, as Steven Lowe comments in his excellent program notes, was rediscovered only in the 1960s in Czech National Library in Prague. Two men are credited with finding the manuscript, one being H.C. Robbins Landon, the noted Haydn scholar. It is by far the less familiar one and less immediately appealing. But it has plenty of merit — how could it not considering its composer? — which Moser exploited at every turn.
It was a reading of considerable restraint and introspection, which gave due respect to the stylistic demands of the period and to Haydn himself. Moser’s account was unusually coherent with an opening Moderato that sets the pace for the work. Moser exaggerated nothing, which must have been a temptation to give the work at little more punch. But he held back because Haydn held back. The Adagio was equally contained, although Moser provided a long singing line, elegance and legato phrasing. Haydn did not give the soloist the ease of a great melody to provide poignant resonance. The concluding Allegro was a superb example of the advanced state of Moser’s finger technique. There are many fast, running passages that cry for crystalline articulation. Moser displayed the necessary bravura. Every note could be heard. What a pleasure.
He returned to the stage several times to a standing ovation and rewarded his admirers with the Sarabande from Bach’s First Suite for solo cello. That was sublime playing. Nothing before or after equalled it. The concert was the man’s third in concert. I hope it is not his last.
Mozart’s Overture to the “Marriage of Figaro” opened the program. It was light and full of air and charming. Bolton did not conduct for extremes to make a point. He took the middle ground. The other end of the concert was Schubert’s C Major Symphony, “The Great.” The performance was the most disappointing of the evening. It reeked of routine and the pedestrian. Certainly, the playing itself was excellent but that is all there was — notes. Alas.