Orchestra Mozart, Claudio Abbado
Rossini: Overture to L’Italiana in Algeri
Mozart: Symphony No. 35, ‘Haffner’
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4, ‘Italian’
Rossini: Overture to Il barbiere di Siviglia (encore)
The Bologna-based Orchestra Mozart is somewhere between the third and sixth ensemble Claudio Abbado has founded, depending on how you define founding. It is also one of only three orchestras which Abbado has committed to performing with for the indefinite future, together with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Lucerne Festival Orchestra. There’s no cause for concern if you’re thinking that of these three the Orchestra Mozart is the one he’s most likely to tour with – and not because Abbado has a habit of changing his mind. Their playing under his direction is immaculate, light as a feather, and fresh. Tempi are lively and focus is for the most part on phrases rather than lines, but Abbado has them play on modern instruments and motivic underscoring seems very much structurally directed.
The Haffner had all of this, but proportions were a little off. The second subject of the Andante was sufficiently rushed to make the movement seem episodic. The opening of the Presto was held back to tension-deflating effect, presumably the opposite of Abbado’s intention. After a very strong first movement, these little things bothered me.
I had fewer reservations about the Mendelssohn. The opening phrase sprang into life with remarkable spontaneity, and the balance between reproducing carefully rehearsed phrasing and letting go was sustained throughout the movement. The last movement felt similar but could have been taken at a slightly steadier pace for the sake of the woodwind filigree. An old school Romantic approach to the Andante can make its textures sound like organ music (pesante bass always a giveaway), as does the HIP treatment, I think, in its own way. Light vibrato and a more sustained, expressive melodic line isn’t enough, as Abbado seems to have realised; inner voices sounded carefully shaped and checked more than once for balance. What can I say? It’s very rare that this movement doesn’t make me think of Mendelssohn’s sixth organ sonata.
The familiar may not have always sounded so new in this concert, but Abbado’s classical style is about reconciling the polar opposites of performance practice in imaginative and well-grounded ways and it’s worth hearing him conduct the Orchestra Mozart just for that.