In Symphony Hall last evening, September 23, the Handel and Haydn Orchestra, together with the fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, played a program called “Mozart in Vienna.” Arranged around a conceit of three musical colleagues and friends whose paths crossed at various times in Vienna, the program alternated overtures taken from oratorios (“Autumn” and “Winter” from Haydn’s Seasons, and Dittersdorf’s Esther) with larger-scale works: Haydn’s Concertino in F Major, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in g minor. The idea looks pretty enough on paper, and the separation of overtures from the music which was intended to follow them has been done in concert for a very long time; in this particular case, I thought the effect was not quite as effective as it might have been. Certainly, by the end of the overture to “Winter,” at least, I was all but expecting to hear a voice enter — even an immediate plunge into the following concerto would have been nearly as satisfying. As it was, the coiling chromatic lines of the overture led not to a glory of more music, but to applause, and then bows, and then the exit of the conductor (Harry Christophers), and a reshuffling on stage, and then more applause for the re-entrance of the conductor, and then the entrance of the soloist (Bezuidenhout), and then more bows, and more applause — and then, finally, when the memory of the overture had faded, and its introductory purpose quite lost, the delicious Concerto began.
It should be mentioned that Bezuidenhout, delightful as always, played a piano modeled on instruments of some twenty years after Mozart’s death. In the program notes, Bezuidenhout explains that this compromise is an attempt to compensate for the very un-eighteenth-century size of the venue. The Graf-Bosendorfer (built by Regier of Maine) he did use has the “speed of decay, brightness, and clarity” of the late eighteenth-century Viennese piano, while having also just enough added power and beefiness to carry well in the vast cavern of Symphony Hall. Certainly, it was clearly and attractively audible from the second balcony, halfway down the hall, something that no Walter I have heard in that space has succeeded in doing.
The orchestra was perhaps a little below its usual good form. The general level of energy was somewhat slack, with the winds frequently lagging out of step, and there were an uncomfortable number of glaringly out-of-tune passages. Some of the unison arpeggios in the Mozart Symphony were anything but unison, and the first bar of Esther was truly memorable in the confidence with which it put forward the sourest chord I can remember from an orchestra of this calibre. However, I presume all this will be tidied up by the time of the second performance, on Sunday at 3 o’clock.
Tamar Hestrin-Grader, a harpsichordist, received her A.B. in Music from Harvard in May.