The Israel Mozart Orchestra was formed for the Toujours Mozart Festival, that took place at the Elma Arts Center (Zichron Ya’akov) in 2016. A chamber ensemble made up mostly of Israelis (some resident outside of Israel), it plays without a conductor, being led by the concertmaster.
This writer attended the IMO’s recent concert in the Ran Baron Hall of the Israel Conservatory of Music (Tel Aviv) on October 21st 2017. The all-Mozart program was performed on period instruments. Overseas guest artists were concertmaster - violinist Joanna Huszcza (Poland/Belgium), oboist Marcel Ponseele (Belgium) and violist Kaat de Cock (Belgium).
W.A.Mozart’s different genres of occasional music reflect his predilection for home entertainment and social activities. The Tel Aviv concert began with two of Mozart’s divertimenti. The divertimenti, performed at parties in Mozart’s time, are all scored for strings and two horns, two of them adding an extra wind instrument. Lacking the formality and virtuosic approach of his concert music and the drama of his operas does not mean that these works lack the composer’s compositional perfection. When they do make it to the concert platform nowadays (sadly, too rarely) they are often performed by sizeable orchestras. The one-to-a-part manner in which we heard them played at the Tel Aviv concert would have been much closer to the scoring and sound world of 18th century house music. Presenting Divertimento no.11 in D-major K.251 (1776), featuring Marcel Ponseele on oboe, the players brought out the work’s charm and joie-de-vivre and its occasional surprises. Ponseele’s solo sections bristled with life and interest, his tasteful flexing of rhythms lending spontaneity.as did Huszcza’s ornamenting and that of violinist Jonathan Keren as in the noble-stepping (4th movement) Menuetto. Stripped of its formality, the French-style Marcia, the work’s final movement, with its charming asides, was allowed to somewhat dance. Who knows if the original Salzburg musicians did not also open the intermezzo with the Marcia to attract the partygoers’ attention from eating, drinking and conversing! It seems Mozart wrote this divertimento for his sister’s name-day. Nannerl would have enjoyed its sunny, French touches.
We then heard Mozart’s Divertimento No.15 in B-flat major K.287 for strings and two horns, written for the celebration of Countess Antonia Lodron of Salzburg’s name-day (also referred to as the Second Lodron Serenade). Joanna Huszvza leads well. Her splendid playing of the demanding and sometimes florid 1st violin part was a reminder that, in Mozart’s time, K287 was occasionally performed as a violin concerto (with Mozart himself as soloist). Playing on natural horns, Alon Reuven and Barak Yeivin added variety and beauty of timbre to the ensemble, giving expression to the composer’s intentions by playing the instrument Mozart must have had in mind and setting up a fine balance in the ensemble. And, as the two changed crooks from movement to movement, they made playing natural horns look easy! The Tema con variazioni (2nd movement) abounded with charm, interest and variety. Would the countess have recognized the theme taken from folksong tunes commonly associated with vulgar words? In its performance of the two Intermezzi, the IMO players gave the music its due, displaying Mozart’s skill in treading the fine line between simplification and interest, between user-friendly communication and sophistication.
Alfred Brendel once referred to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.9 in E-flat major, K.27, “Jeunehomme” as “one of the wonders of the world, which showed Mozart in an entirely new light”. He claimed that Mozart “did not surpass this piece in the later piano concertos”, adding that it “looks to the future, and yet it comes from a Baroque tradition which the later concertos no longer continue.” A truly unique work, its score is fully written out - lead-ins, cadenzas and embellishments. Composed in January of 1777 for strings, horns and oboes, when Mozart was just turning 21, the concerto has long been known as the “Jeunehomme” concerto after its supposed dedicatee, but this has recently been found to be a misnomer, as the dedicatee’s actual identity was a certain Madame Victoire Jenamy (1749-1812), a French pianist. The IMO’s splendid line-up of players displayed Mozart’s use of the instruments in novel ways to create dramatic dialogue between piano and orchestra. Zvi Meniker, who currently teaches harpsichord, fortepiano and performance practice at the Hannover Conservatory, performed the solo role on a fortepiano belonging to Bar-Ilan University. There was close communication between him and the other instrumentalists. Meniker’s playing of the opening movement was vibrant and articulate, his reading of the dark, C-minor Andantino complemented by sensitive nuancing on the part of the other players, his performance of the cadenza spontaneous and personal. The Rondeau movement, with its extensive and demanding solo moments, was a fine vehicle for Meniker’s easeful energy and virtuosity, as well as for both Mozart and Meniker’s taste for surprises - Mozart’s in interrupting the Rondeau with an unconventionally placed minuet part way through and Meniker’s in finding room in the cadenza to quote the popular Hebrew song “Hava nagila”.
Photo: Shirley Burdick