Mozart is very much the box office and chart-topping rage these days. Now that everybody loves him, it's indeed enlightening when an ensemble with a century-plus heritage reopens our ears to the manner in which Mozart's music should be played. That is exactly the object lesson the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg taught at the Kennedy Center Saturday night.
Theirs was an unforced musicality never at cross-purposes with the composer's intentions. Unlike some larger orchestras that pare their forces (yet still feel compelled to overdramatize with exaggerated dynamics) when performing Mozart, the Mozarteum, fewer in number to start with, gently, lovingly mined the music's inner strengths and beauties. The superb playing was not a studied musicological exercise in authenticity; rather, it flowed naturally, righting, at least for an evening, past performance injustices to Mozart.
With conductor Hans Graf at the helm, the strings gave a vivid portrayal of the Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546, originally written for two pianos. Grumbling low strings and pregnant pauses created an air of tension before the intricate fugue -- the first of many contrapuntal sections to come -- unfolded.
Pianist Homero Francesch and the winds came aboard for the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major. Both wasted no time in establishing themselves. Francesch's nimble, light touch issued a multiplicity of emotions, while the winds were simply exquisite in Mozart's color scheme.
The concluding "Prague" Symphony, K. 504, was elegantly shaped and balanced -- lighter yet more persuasive than one had reason to expect. Those who beat a hasty retreat to their cars missed the epilogue: three brief encores showing why Mozart mania may be here to stay.