Mozarteum Orchestra opens Kravis season with first-class artistry

By David Fleshler

Matthew Halls conducted the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg Saturday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

Matthew Halls conducted the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg Saturday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

An old and distinguished European orchestra opened the Kravis Center’s classical season Saturday night in West Palm Beach, in the first event of the richest classical series in South Florida.

The Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, founded in 1841 with the help of Mozart’s widow and their sons, has a sound all its own. Smaller than the typical symphony orchestra, the orchestra has something of an early-music sensibility to its playing and interpretations, but without a trace of the brittleness, technical gaffes or exaggeration sometimes characteristic of such groups.

Despite the orchestra’s size, the sound, under English conductor Matthew Halls, was weighty and richly balanced, with precise playing in strings, deeply refined brass that was well integrated into the orchestra, and piquant wind playing that was full of individual personality and color.

All of these qualities showed in a performance of Schubert’s Symphony No. 3, written when the composer was just 18. Schubert’s early works in the form exist in the shadow of his famous later symphonies; but in this performance the Third  came off as a significant work with glints of the composer’s personality emerging from the influence of Haydn and other predecessors.

Winds played with quiet intensity in the slow, tension-filled introduction to the first movement. As the music picked up speed, the orchestra played with youthful vigor and energy, and the performance had Beethovenian fire in passages of brass, timpani and roiling strings. The light inner movements featured terrific wind playing, particularly the oboe and bassoon duo in the third movement’s trio, played with humor and lustrous tones. The last movement zipped along like a Rossini overture but with greater weight and depth.

Radovan Vlatkovic

Radovan Vlatkovic

For a performance of Richard Strauss’s Horn Concerto No. 1, the orchestra was joined by the Croatian-born horn player Radovan Vlatkovic. A formidable, bearded stage presence, Vlatkovic brought a confident, authoritative manner to his playing of this famously treacherous instrument.

This is a concerto in which the solo instrument is playing almost constantly, and Vlatkovic tackled the work with an almost operatic sense of drama. His tone varied from strutting energy and drive in the cocky opening theme to murky, evocative distance in the glowing, Romantic harmonies of the slow movement. His technical mastery was clear throughout on an instrument that trips up even top players, as he played with plummy geniality in the rapid notes of the last movement.

A pair of shorter works balanced out the program. 

In Beethoven’s Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, the orchestra’s compact, precise sound effectively expressed the work’s drama, with crisp violin playing in fast passages that could have become a blur. The ballet music from Mozart’s opera Idomeneo gave another opportunity for rich, poignant wind playing, with the orchestra producing a dark and plush ensemble sound in the dramatic, minor-key section of the music.

As an encore, there was more Beethoven, the last movement of the Symphony No. 7, taken at high speed, but with muscular unity and control.

Matthew Halls leads the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg 2 p.m. Sunday at the Kravis Center in an all-Mozart program, which includes the Symphonies Nos. 40 and 41 and the Horn Concerto No. 3 with soloist Radovan Vlatkovic.; 561-832-7469.


Posted in Performances

One Response to “Mozarteum Orchestra opens Kravis season with first-class artistry”

  1. Posted Dec 04, 2016 at 4:23 pm by The Melmans

    great review and beautifully written your next seat neighbors Morty and Roberta

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Sun Dec 4, 2016
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