Similarly, the dance elements - however woozy - in the final movement of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 emerged senselessly heavy. On other fronts, counterpoint between soloist and the orchestra's basses was flabby; the usually misty colors conjured by the orchestra in the second movement were too literal to be dreamy.
Luckily, soloist Akiko Suwanai, replacing indisposed Elisabeth Batiashvili, was on top of the situation. Though not so well known in the United States, she has a significant European career. Her splendid tone has a dark, Viennese quality (unlike the previous owner of her Stradivarius, Jascha Heifetz) and her phrase readings were thoroughly alert to the concerto's angular brusqueness.
The wide-ranging program, which ended with Mozart's Symphony No. 39, was unified in two unexpected ways. Heard after Stravinsky and Prokofiev, Mozart's symphony revealed its angular side. It's one of the few instances of the composer's breaking a long-breathed melody into quirky sections that are often interrupted by other musical commentary.
But if a title for the program had to be chosen, it could have been "1935." That was the year the Stravinsky and Prokofiev pieces were germinating, as well as the vintage of Sawallisch's approach to Mozart (to judge from recordings made around that time).
Those who have studied how Mozart was performed in his own time would now tell Sawallisch that his approach is wrong, that the first movement's slow introduction should go at more than twice his speed, that the size of the orchestra used here is ludicrously large. Even with his reputation for slow tempi, music director Christoph Eschenbach prefers faster, leaner Mozart.
However, Sawallisch is to be cherished for his graceful, truthful phrasing, and his care not to drown out the wind instruments on one hand and special feats of blending horns and strings on the other. The minuet did dance with plain-spoken simplicity. This is endangered-species Mozart, an echo of an era when young Sawallisch heard Mozart conducted by another great musical mind, Richard Strauss.
Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at 215-854-4907 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Philadelphia Orchestra program will be repeated at 8 tonight and Tuesday at the Kimmel Center. Information: 215-893-1999 or www.philorch.org.