A composer born in 1756 and lamented, after his premature death, by Haydn as “one of the greatest geniuses I have ever known” naturally invites comparison to Mozart. It was Joseph Martin Kraus (1756 – 1792) that Haydn meant, originally from Miltenberg in the Archbishopric of Mainz but known for his work that he did as the Court Kapellmeister for Gustav III of Sweden.
The audience of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’s concerts on the 17th and 18th of November, conducted by Christian Zacharias, got to compare all three composers—Mozart, Kraus, and Haydn—side by side. A symphony of Kraus’ (the C Minor Symphony VB 142), two concertos by Mozart (Oboe Concerto K314 and Piano Concerto K450), and a Haydn Symphony—thankfully not a “London” one, but No.80 in D Minor.
J.M.Kraus, Symphonies vol.1,
P.Sundkvist / Swedish CO
W.A.Mozart, Flute & Oboe Concertos,
C.Davis / BRSO / F.Leleux, I.Grafenauer
D.Scarlatti, Keyboard Sonatas,
The Kraus Symphonies' gentle opening Larghetto in dark c-minor might have been a bit drab, but there was collective wakening as the first movement moved on to the Allegretto. Still, in this symphony that Haydn so very much liked, it’s a seamless move from gloom to doom (Andante) until the moving finale eventually takes over with exquisite liveliness. The first two movements make this truly, literally extraordinary symphony special; the last: enjoyable.
Compared to that, the Mozart Concertos-especially K450, with Zacharias more or less conducting from the piano, was merely pretty, slipping from playful to perfunctory, despite some carefully studied tempo changes. Zacharias’ encore was a different world: fresh and witty Scarlatti that was like a shot of adrenaline after a dose of melatonin. After the break, one of the BRSO’s own—the marvelous Ramón Ortega Quero (who became the BRSO’s principal oboist shortly after his sweep at the 2007 ARD Music Competition)—took on K314 to considerably more success. It’s an economic choice, such an ‘internal solution’, but by no means was it a lesser one in this case. Spritely-buoyant, with astonishing technique and a fine, slightly irritated tone Quero waggled his way through that work that so enchants with its melodic simplicity (not to say simpleness).
If it had been a composer’s contest, and not just a matter of performance, Haydn would have won hands down: Symphony No.80 was performed with panache that the preceding works did not approach, and the enthusiastic response of the audience furthers the hope that Haydn can be programmed as a main ingredient more often, without the clientele staying away for want of interest in that most wonderful and most important classical composer.