The relationship between Mozart and Salieri has been fed rumours for centuries: beginning with putting obstacles in Mozart's way when he was trying to establish himself as a composer in Vienna, Salieri was eventually even conjectured to have been behind his contemporary's death! While there certainly was competition between the two for jobs and commissions, things between them weren't by far as acidic as Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus would have us believe. Salieri conducted much of Mozart's work, they even composed a cantata together (the manuscript of which was only rediscovered at the beginning of this year) and seemed to have great appreciation for the other's work. As colleagues, and perhaps even friends, the two composers appear next to one another in a recent concert series by the Orchestra of the Swan, along with yet another favourite contemporary. Seeking to "rescue" Salieri's reputation, the orchestra opened the afternoon with his inventive Sinfonia Il giorno onomastico that shows him as a witty and versatile composer.

Lucía Caruso, Pedro Henriques Da Silva and the Orchestra of the Swan © Pedro Henriques Da Silva
Lucía Caruso, Pedro Henriques Da Silva and the Orchestra of the Swan
© Pedro Henriques Da Silva

Its first movement with its wealth of motivic ideas (which at times are not that far removed from Mozart's) has the feel of an operatic overture rather than a symphonic opener and was played with a variety of colours and dynamic nuance. A Larghetto with woodwind trio and soaring strings over resonant double bass pizzicato is followed by a short Minuetto whose stately fanfare passages frame a bassoon and strings only Trio. While the first was light and fluffy, the latter was played with the necessary courtly pomp and transparency. The final movement, a joyful Allegretto, was also a movement of discernible contrast, ranging from pithy pianos to a vigorous gigue. A motivic simplicity that would have made Beethoven proud was quickly juxtaposed with another energetic block, then a mad dash needed several attempts to finally close the symphony after a number of cadential formulas.

With orchestral colour, precise ensemble playing and dynamic variation this opener saw the musicians in fine form that continued into Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 13 in C, K415. The sprightly orchestral introduction had soloist Lucía Caruso move with the music, yet her entry was blurred and so were the virtuoso runs that substituted for much melodic material in this concerto. While Caruso's upper body often clearly signalled emphasis, this didn't seem to translate into her arms and hands, and while I generally enjoy a softer stroke, a much bolder articulation would have been needed to carry across the orchestra in the tutti parts. Her playing gained a bit more bite in the second movement cadenza, however, and she elicited nice colour and expression in the Adagio interlude, but on the whole – be it the use of pedal or a strange quirk of the acoustic in the otherwise pleasant Town Hall – the concerto remained a little pale.

Not at all pale was the little treat the musicians had in store for their audience, starring Lucía Caruso as well as her husband, Pedro Henriques da Silva, both as soloists and composers. Folía, the couple's signature piece on the basis of that very famous ground, is a musical trip through the ages from Renaissance years to the exploratory sounds of contemporary music. It was fizzy, it was virtuosic, it caught the attention with a dense orchestral fabric below the unusual sound of da Silva's Portuguese guitar, ending with a gripping musical descent into the titular madness. There were one or two moments in which ensemble suffered, possibly because the piano was once again swallowed by the orchestra when its bass should have provided guidance, yet it was a captivating, rousing performance of a brief, yet very effective piece.

Yet another "classic", Haydn's Oxford Symphony, stood at the close of the afternoon. Solo lines were nicely weaved into the well balanced tutti and the second movement showed remarkable density of sound. The joy of playing was clearly visible in the jaunty finale with a spring in its step and made for a fine close of a shiny, colourful programme whose opener certainly did its bit to help put the record Salieri straight.

***11