Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony no. 2 was a riveting wake-up call as the first item on this Tonhalle programme. Completed in 1939, it was premiered in New York a year later. The work features fulminant sounds and easy harmonies in keeping with what the composer noted as “trusting my sense of form, and not thinking too much, with what my current existence demands in respect of ‘visible’ logic.” The Zurich strings and woodwinds sounded almost like human voices pleading from a forsaken wilderness for God’s salvation. Concertmaster Klaidi Sahatçi gave a striking violin solo, and at the end of the first movement, Anita Leuzinger’s sublime cello showed itself particularly demonstrative, making for an animated, polylingual conversation. The Adagio was marked by its sheer effervescence, and a frenzied close, the entire orchestra settling, with brilliant resolve, on a single note.

Antonello Manacorda
© NIkolaj Lund

Mozart’s spirited Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor, a work which was premiered in Vienna in 1785, was next on the programme. Brilliant Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi took up a spirited conversation with the orchestra in a way nothing short of exemplary. In the first movement, with sovereign accents, he parried a voice with Simon Fuchs’ sublime oboe; in the second, offered something as lyrical as it was precise and emotive. Then in the finale, taken at breakneck speed – the piano conversing with the oboe and flute – there were sequences that sounded inspired. Conductor Antonello Manacorda punched the air in his own celebration of Mozart’s invigorating score.

The concert’s final offer was Schubert’s Symphony no. 9 in C major, which was written between 1825 and 1828, one of the most important symphonies dating from the first half of the 19th century. The work was lauded in its day, both by Mendelssohn, who conducted its first public performance in Leipzig in 1839, and Schumann. Manacorda's orchestral configuration included six double basses, leading to a hefty effect, if not somewhat confrontational. The conductor’s directions were highly animated, such that his theatrical performance almost verged on a distraction. Notwithstanding, the oboe, again, had stellar interventions, and in the second movement, the cellos and Matvey Demin’s flute were stunning. In the third movement, there were colourful reprises, and then the conductor boosted his degree of athleticism to a bit over the top as the Finale came to an end. So be it; by that time, for as tightly and competently as the orchestra had played throughout, the performance was terrific testimony to the magic of music.