TROY — The Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg made its debut Thursday night at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall as part of its 175th anniversary, 10-day U.S. tour.
Founded by Mozart’s widow Constanze and his two sons in 1841 — Mozart died in 1791 — this excellent orchestra specializes in playing his music. As a result, the qualities it has developed were on full display throughout the program: attention to detail, rhythmic and technical precision, refined sound, clear phrasing, exceptional ensemble and balances and subtlety of dynamic ranges. Everything sang. These 45 players were so in tune with each other that they really didn’t need their conductor, Matthew Halls.
They began with Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 in D Major (1816), written when he was 19. The four movements were wonderfully sunny with lilting, charming melodies and lots of youthful brio. The brass was especially tight and exact. Halls set vibrant tempos, but it was watching him that proved interesting. He has an individual style: his right hand beats time but not in any discernible pattern; his left arm provided the details from the arc of a phrase, the level of dynamic from soft to loud, to the cutoffs either with a clenched fist or a flourish. No cues seemed to be indicated, but his physicality reflected his emotional intent, which was always musical. The musicians evidently got what he wanted.
Croatian French horn master Radovan Vlatkovic has a matchless level of artistry. He was the soloist in Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1 (1885), which is considered a staple of the repertoire. He was superior in every way: lovely fluid and singing phrases, a sweet and mellow tone, perfect finishes and magically soft attacks, exceptional control of colors and dynamics, brilliantly clean technique, and an ease in performing. The orchestra gave him strong support. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Beethoven’s “Overture to Prometheus” (1801) was bright, speedy, and had lots of forward momentum. His Symphony No. 7 in A Major (1812) is one of his most lyrical. Throughout the four movements, Halls allowed for subtle phrasing in the winds, made much of the softer passages that would erupt into loud beats, and whipped the players into an exuberant drive when possible.
The crowd loved it. An exquisite Mozart Andante for strings — “classical music’s version of the Sugarplum Fairy,” Halls said, was the encore.