United Kingdom Beethoven, Mozart: Radovan Vlatković (horn), Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg/Matthew Halls (conductor), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 29.11.2016 (BJ)
Beethoven – Overture to Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, Op.43
Mozart – Horn Concerto No.3 in E flat major, K.447
Mozart – Symphony No.41 in C major, K.551, “Jupiter”
One of the greatest satisfactions afforded by the practice of criticism – for this critic, at least – is the occasional opportunity to revise a formerly negative opinion of a performer in a positive direction. Having been distinctly underwhelmed by my first encounter with Matthew Halls’s conducting in Seattle a few years ago, I approached this Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert with less than sanguine expectation – but the event turned out to be an evening of superb musical standards and unadulterated pleasure.
It was evident from the first bars of Beethoven’s Prometheus overture that the Mozarteum now possesses a very fine orchestra, and that it was being led by a talented conductor with a penchant for crisp rhythms and saturated textures, unblemished by the frenetic tempos and the weakness of orchestral bass that troubled me last time around. Indeed, partly in consequence of the lively acoustics of a much smaller hall, but also because of skillful work on the podium and enthusiastic response from the nearly 40-player ensemble, Beethoven and Mozart alike emerged with a sonic power that was highly refreshing.
No less impressive was the performance of the soloist in Mozart’s Horn Concerto No.3. Radovan Vlatković evinced a total technical ease and a warmth and grace of expression such as I have rarely encountered in champions of the instrument, making it sound deceptively easy to play as few horn-players have so compellingly done since the days of the wonderful Dennis Brain more than half a century ago. There was a palpable sense of genial collegiality in Vlatković’s interplay with conductor and orchestra, and a vociferous ovation was rewarded by the soloist with an unusually substantial encore. Messiaen’s Appel Interstellaire, intended originally as a stand-alone piece but later revised and incorporated in the composer’s large-scale orchestral Des canyons aux étoiles, was musically fascinating in itself and served at the same time to demonstrate Vlatković’s seemingly effortless command of such extended techniques as flutter-tonguing, closed notes, glissandos, and faintly-sounded oscillations produced with the keys half-closed.
Mozart’s last symphony, after intermission, received a performance of sufficient majesty to make its rather silly nickname seem for once appropriate. Rhythms, again, were splendidly clean, textures exceptionally lucid and airy, and tempos eminently well chosen. And what a joy to hear the finale allowed its full epoch-making breadth and grandeur!
A rip-roaring account of the finale of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony made one exciting encore, and that was still not enough to satisfy Halls’s desire to please, for it was followed by a movement from the 13-year-old Mozart’s G major Cassation, K.63.