I'm also greatly enjoying your investigations of earlier editions. I'm currently playing 4E, but trying to apply some of the principles of traditional D&D. For example, I don't scale encounters and run a rather open-ended sandbox campaign with no set plot (though there are plenty of events which the PCs can interact with). My game is also a bit more dangerous than by the book 4E (I use the AD&D dead at -10 rules rather than the death saving throw system). None of my players have had a PC die yet, though several have come close (and none of them have plot immunity).
I think part of the cognitive dissonance when playing an earlier edition after playing later editions comes from the idea that PCs should be able to take on encounters directly. If you do that, then you will indeed have 2-4 deaths per 4 hour session. But smart play often centers around avoiding or circumventing encounters rather than fighting. The fact that any combat is dangerous to a low level Holmes characters means that a smart Holmes character will fight only when they absolutely must. I could easily see a game with no "fair fights" at all during the first few levels. Not all players enjoy this kind of game--they want to be able to charge forward guns blazing.
In any case, I agree with you regarding Moldvay: it is indeed the pinacle of D&D. :-)
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