Visiting orchestras in Philadelphia have become a rarity since the Kimmel Center lost interest in being a classical importer several years ago. Actually, it's a lot easier to put orchestras on stage than you might think, because ensembles routinely tour the United States. The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society tapped into the pipeline Tuesday night, veering from its usual chamber-music mission to present the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg at the Kimmel's Perelman Theater.
The Kimmel did co-present the concert with PCMS -- providing the hall rent-free -- and though the arrangement works, it is no substitute for a regular series that would bring the ensembles of Cleveland, Chicago, or Berlin (which has just come through the States.).
Yes, we already have a resident orchestra, and even a chamber orchestra. But there is tremendous value in hearing, as we did Tuesday, a completely different string-section philosophy, winds closer in sound to their naturalistic origins than we are used to hearing, and a fresh emphasis on what's valuable in music.
Musical globalization makes it hard to discern regional differences from other factors, but the Mozarteum, led by British conductor Matthew Halls in the relatively close quarters of the Perelman, had a sound all its own -- lean and silken, with a spirit that walked quite comfortably the line between refined and apt to take chances.
They also had fun. When one of the horn players slid down to a slightly rude low note in the middle section of the third movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 41 in C Major, the "Jupiter," smiles rippled through the ensemble.
Never did a rude sound pass from the lips of Radovan Vlatković, soloist in Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 3, K. 447. A frequent participant at the Marlboro Music Festival (PCMS's sister organization) and a Salzburg resident, Vlatković is a dream of a hornist. He has nothing you could call a vibrato, but he manipulates sound to an unusually fine degree: articulation that could start with a small puff of the tongue, or sound that seemed to appear out of nowhere. He has a singer's ear for shaping notes. The concerto's third movement was a sprint of hunting calls, with him melding tone with other winds.
You'd never know the treachery of his instrument from the concerto, or from the vocabulary list of special effects he drew on (flutter tongue, glissandi, the buzzy sound of closing off the bell with the right hand called stopping) in the encore: Messiaen's "Interstellar Call" from his Des canyons aux étoiles...
A lithe Beethoven Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus opened the program, and the third movement from Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 was an encore. The ensemble, with an understated early-instrument sound, avoided some of the rhythmic eccentricities that have slipped into the performance tradition of this movement, freeing the music to become its most dancerly version of itself.