The Handel and Haydn Society offered listeners a mix of the familiar and the obscure this past weekend. And while it's always beneficial to hear the unfamiliar, in this case the more orthodox fare held the greater pleasures.
Christopher Hogwood, H&H's conductor laureate, was at the helm, and he led off with an arrangement for strings of Mozart's Fantasy for Mechanical Organ (K. 608), one of a few works he wrote for this novelty instrument. The piece itself is no novelty, though; it bears the clear signs of Mozart's study of Baroque music, which proved so fruitful for some of his late masterpieces. In this version it sounded like a companion to the better-known Adagio and Fugue in C Minor (K. 546), though lacking that work's driven intensity.
Following that was Mozart's beloved Clarinet Concerto (K. 622), played here in an arrangement for flute, with the orchestration slightly altered as well. It was interesting to hear the mellow, autumnal sound of the original solo instrument replaced by the brighter flute. The slow movement was the most intriguing of the three, and Hogwood kept the textures light to show off the delicate interplay between soloist and orchestra. Beyond curiosity value, though, there wasn't much to recommend it over the original, except for a chance to hear principal flutist Christopher Krueger take a superb turn in the solo.
The second half of the program was given over to Haydn's Symphony No. 98, not the most popular of his 12 "London" symphonies but every bit the equal of its better-known counterparts. The slow movement features an outburst of anguish unusual in Haydn and is thought by some to be Haydn's memorial to Mozart, who died around the time it was composed. At the other end of the affective spectrum is the finale, not only brilliantly constructed but full of Haydn's renowned musical wit, including a tinkly duet at the end for the first violins and the pianoforte, which has hitherto been hiding within the musical fabric.
The Mozart performances were good, the Haydn superb. Hogwood was in his element, his conducting equal parts energy and grace. The H&H orchestra played up to its high standards; the brass and timpani gave the symphony an extra dose of excitement.