I probably would not have gone to tonight’s concert at the Mozarteum, except that it was part of a subscription series. Not that anything was wrong with it (or I would have given the ticket away), just that it was not particularly exciting. The value of attending was to hear the Mozarteum Orchestra play beautifully, especially the lush woodwinds and confident brass, on a bed of gorgeous strings. So that was worth it.
The music, presumably selected by the young British conductor Nicholas Collon, was a bit pedestrian. The concert opened with an arrangement of Robert Schumann‘s Six Pieces in Canon Form. Schumann took his inspiration for these piece from technical keyboard studies by Bach, and then this particular set was subsequently rearranged for two pianos by Debussy, then that version was itself orchestrated for chamber orchestra by British composer Robin Holloway, so that this version had its world premiere earlier this year. To a music theorist, Bach’s keyboard studies were mathematical treasure troves – although not necessarily aesthetically great music. And by the time these get washed through three other composers, they are no longer mathematically substantive, so what’s the point any more? At least the playing was nice.
Mozart‘s 22nd Piano Concerto came next. Till Fellner joined the orchestra with his velvety fingers. The first movement started more joyfully, to raise the mood after the Schumann pieces, but then the rest of the performance dragged. Whenever I eventually leave Salzburg I won’t need to be reminded to substantially reduce my intake of Mozart, just as I have already been reducing my intake of Tschaikowsky (whose favorite composer was Mozart). They wrote beautiful music, often wonderfully so, and sometimes they even had something to say about it, but there often just is not enough there there. Living in Salzburg has not inducted me into the cult of Mozart any more than living in Moscow inducted me into the cult of Tschaikowsky – I find both composers highly over-rated (if they did not have cult status, I’d judge them as quite good, but, as it is, enough is enough).
The concert closed with more Schumann: his 2nd Symphony. This drew inspiration from Schubert’s 9th. And while there are some experimental chromatics which the orchestra knew how to navigate, the symphony demonstrated a stunted development in symphonic music that led directly into the musical dead end that was Brahms. (Bruckner, on the other hand, followed the logical development from Schubert and gave us a musical heritage that continued through Mahler, Sibelius, and Schostakowitsch, among others). That said, if I am going to hear this tuneful and often stately symphony, I’m very pleased to have the Mozarteum Orchestra performing it. They did it justice tonight.
Then again, maybe I am being especially jaded, still reveling in the afterglow of last weekend’s interpretation of Haydn and Bruckner by Riccardo Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic. Mozart and Schumann just cannot compare.