A little music by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart opened my weekend in Salzburg. The Mozarteum Orchestra‘s all-Mozart concert conducted by Andrew Manze moved from the Mozarteum to the Haus für Mozart as a result of covid: the hall in the Festival complex is larger (so more people can fit in with distancing) and the entry area is also less constrained (even with distancing in seating at the Mozarteum, there would be no way to avoid crowding on the stairs up to the hall). It seemed that the algorithm for this concert also favored couples, as rather than using a checkerboard seating arrangement as in the Great Festival House last night, most seats were paired and those of us by ourselves were the oddities.
While I understand the logic of the move in the midst of the pandemic, the unfortunate consequence of it was that the stupidly-named Haus für Mozart (apparently. I have learned, renamed about 15 years ago from the more logical “Small Festival House” because it was supposed to be used to perform Mozart, even though no more Mozart gets performed there than anywhere else and most of what is performed there is not by Mozart) has miserable acoustics. They really do need to gut the place and start over: it is indeed that bad.
The full Mozarteum Orchestra did not take the stage, but rather only a chamber-sized group from the orchestra. Combine the inadequate forces with the dead acoustics, and we got a thin, dull sound which was very much not the musicians’ fault. It beats sitting at home and listening to a recording, so I am glad to be able to attend (and I have tickets for three other chamber concerts moved by the corona-revised schedule into this hall this month). But the first piece, the Symphony #35 (“Haffner”) in particular, came across weak and distant, lacking fullness of tone and swing.
The Orchestra’s principal horn, Rob van de Laar, was the soloist for the Horn Concerto #2, providing an idiomatic reading that blended fully with the Orchestra he obviously knows well, a nice symbiosis. The Serenade “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” was more the right size for this reduced ensemble, but that still could not resolve the hall’s acoustics. And, finally, Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi joined the orchestra for the Piano Concerto #26, coaxing as warm a sound as probably possible from a piano in this hall (the work itself is pleasant enough, but not especially interesting). Piemontesi added a solo encore – which sounded like it may have been by Mozart too – which demonstrated he could get the same warmth without an orchestra (but again I was not so convinced about the merits of piece itself – pleasant but so what? Mozart wrote a lot of music without paying much attention to it or putting in much effort at all, probably wasting his own talent).
Manze’s spirited, sympathetic, leadership did not go unnoticed.