Though mostly Mozart, festival gave more than a nod to Haydn
New York — The Mostly Mozart Festival justly closed its current season with an all-Haydn week. Throughout the years, Haydn has always tended to be eclipsed by Mozart. Audiences have always preferred Mozart's sadness and pathos to Haydn's sophistication and wit. Because of the extraordinary concertos, symphonies, and especially operas that Mozart produced in his brief life, and because of the nature of his complicated life and pauper's death, there has always been an aura around his name that has allowed little room for a Haydn to peek through.
Haydn was Mozart's teacher (as he was Beethoven's); they were fast friends. Haydn was the most beloved musician in Europe through much of his long life. Perhaps it was his general prosperity, the lack of familiarity with his often remarkable operas, and a general dearth of concertos that allowed the bulk of his works to be overlooked for so long.
That has all changed. After World War II, when the private collections of the various castles in now-communist-controlled realms were opened to the public, a vast quantity of unknown manuscripts was made available to musicologists and the world at large. These finally offered a comprehensive insight into the vastness and consistency of this man's remarkable musical output.
Haydn for all intents and purposes invented the string quartet, and he brought the symphony to full fruition as a musical form (with 104 to his official credit). He was a prolific composer of operas that were widely praised in his day. In the context of this creativity, and with the awareness among an increasing number of conductors that his music suffered when treated merely like warmed-over Mozart, an entirely new view of the composer and his unique place in music has been unfolding.
It is fitting, therefore, that Mostly Mozart should devote a week - three different programs, as well as an afternoon/evening ``Haydn Marathon'' - to this composer. And at the same time, the festival managed to use the services of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in one of the orchestral programs, providing a respite for the ever-improving but still overworked Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra.
The Haydn programs I attended were in the hands of Kurt Masur, who was guest-conducting the Israeli orchestra, and Gunther Herbig, who handled the festival orchestra.
In what I heard of his first concert, Mr. Masur and the Israeli orchestra made an unusual partnership. He is outstanding in getting orchestras to play better than their norm (save, ironically, his own Leipzig Gewandhaus), and the Israel Philharmonic played with a tone and attentive ensemble not usually heard in past concerts or on records. And yet, Masur tends to favor plodding tempos and a certain listlessness. This seriously undermined his reading of both Mendelssohn's ``Fingal's Cave'' Overture and Fourth Symphony (``Italian'').
Mr. Herbig's non-Haydn program was on an altogether different level. From his graceful, pliant Bach Third Overture to his stylish, caring reading of Schubert's remarkable Fifth Symphony, Herbig managed to get his Mostly Mozart players to enjoy their musicmaking and communicate the felicities of the work. In the Mozart Concerto (No. 22, E-flat major, K. 482), with Alicia De Larrocha as soloist, a certain stiffness entered in, but it did not significantly mar her performance.
Thus the stage was set, as it were, for the Haydn evenings. Both conductors chose an early and a late symphony: Herbig opted for the Fifth (A major) and the 102nd (B-flat major), Masur the Sixth (D major, ``Le Matin'') and the 104th (also D major, ``London''). The Israelis under Masur played with a consistently appealing tonal awareness, and the blends were particularly beguiling. And yet, neither performance gave any sense of the genius of the music.
Herbig's players may not have been up to the Israelis in terms of seasoned ensemble (the horns were having a grisly night), and yet the performances went further than Masur's in suggesting the composer's variety, wit, and scope.
As for soloists, Masur had the internationally celebrated Heinrich Schiff for the Cello Concerto in D (Hob. VIIb:2), who took nearly two movements to settle down and start playing with his accustomed prowess. Herbig had both pianist Ken Noda and violinist Elmar Oliveira. Mr. Noda began the Piano Concerto (D major, Hob. XVIII:2) a bit lumpily, but he rose to eloquent heights in the un poco adagio movement. Likewise, Mr. Oliveira was most touching in the adagio of his Violin Concerto in D (Hob. VIIa:1), where the generosity of his tone fused with the searching melodic line to create something haunting and touching.