To not enjoy the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg is to know without a doubt that you just do not like classical music. The orchestra, which is one of Austria’s leading symphony orchestras and was founded in 1841, treated Cornell’s Bailey Hall to a mesmerizing, even glamorous concert on Friday. The musicians emitted an energetic spark and a glittering aura of perfection that not even the New York Philharmonic can match. The concert paid true homage to composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn in an unusually captivating and thrilling manner.
If you’ve ever heard classical music, you’ve probably heard the overture of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (or The Marriage of Figaro), so this piece was a clever way to grab the audience right at the start. It is the music playing in the background of every classical radio station commercial, yet when the orchestra played this familiar piece, it was as if they had transcribed it afresh. What might have come out as stale came out as beautifully cartoonish and wonderfully welcoming.
The next selection was Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 in D major (“The Miracle.”) A less frequently performed piece, it was nonetheless enthralling. The first movement, Adagio-Allegro, was intriguing — typically, first movements are faster-paced. This one, however, moved from slow to fast, at first resembling a typical second movement in its slow tempo and tentative, even dark melody, and then speeding up to resemble a typical, peppy first movement. The second movement, Andante, was reminiscent of the first movement’s Adagio in its slower, more cautious quality. Somewhere in the middle, the movement changed keys and became especially appropriate for Friday, the night before Halloween, in its forboding, haunting quality.
The last two movements, Menuetto-Allegretto and Finale-Vivace assai, flew by; both were more quick-paced and majestic-sounding than the previous two movements. Menuetto gave the impression of a bird daintily gliding above water. In Allegro, the first violins played at such a fast tempo that they hardly used any of their bows, contributing to an illusion that they were not playing at all. Conductor Ivor Bolton’s baton resembled a magic wand, as it seemed to consistently produce the most beautifully enchanting sounds out of nowhere. This was especially noticeable after various pauses thoughout the piece, during which not a sound was emitted from the audience and after which the orchestra would come back with full force out of thin air.
The highlight of the concert, however, came with the third selection, Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major. This piece featured German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser, who has performed alongside many of the world’s leading orchestras. Upon walking onstage, Moser immediately owned the entire hall — it was clear even before he played that he was one of those young virtuosos with both talent and charisma, the cellist version of violinist Hilary Hahn. His playing was reminiscent of a voice that joined the orchestra and then stole the melody. The accompaniment, while played by the entire orchestra, slowly but surely faded into the background, graciously letting Moser take the lead. This occurred to such a point that during the breaks between Moser’s solos when the orchestra played without him, there seemed to be something essential missing.
Moser played most furiously during the last movement of the concerto, Allegro molto, stunning the audience into frozen wonder. His bow became a weapon, gliding and slicing gracefully and surely through the notes, with no music in front of him. He then played the second of Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, a selection that was not on the program. The second suite, Allemande, is not as commonly known as the first suite, Prelude, but was a much-appreciated surprise when the audience was undoubtedly dreading seeing Moser go after just one selection.
The orchestra managed to gracefully recover without Moser after the intermission, with its last selection, Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C major, “Jupiter.” Although the cellist’s performance was definitely the most thrilling part of the concert, it was the combination of the orchestra and the young virtuoso that made this program a wonderful start to a weekend that was otherwise filled with Halloween debauchery — and a breathtaking and worthwhile event in its own right.