Beethoven, Mozart, Angela Hewitt are all much loved names in the world of classical music. The promise of a Mozart piano concerto played by Angela Hewitt and a Beethoven symphony is enough to whet any music lover’s appetite. However, as in so many Sydney Symphony concerts, there was another work thrown in, which one could have been forgiven for glossing over in the evening’s publicity. Once more, this extra work showcased the orchestra’s innovative programming and delighted us with a rather compelling surprise. This came in the form of French composer, Henri Dutilleux’s Mystère de l’instant, a contemporary work written for twenty-four strings, cimbalom and percussion. Completed in 1989, this work contains ten short moments, each, as the title suggests, representing a snapshot in time. Thus, the work attempts to capture ten fleeting moments in time. Much of the work was rather ethereal in character, often created by the strings playing high in their tessitura. This intriguing sound world was further served by the percussion and most notably by the addition of the cimbalom, a concert version of the Hungarian hammered dulcimer, which is often used in gypsy and folk ensembles. The work is effective at holding the listener’s attention throughout, largely due to the interesting variations in harmony and rhythm, which was often highly intricate and complex. The orchestra gave an impressive account of this demanding work, playing with commitment and confidence.

The concert was conducted by guest conductor Hannu Lintu, currently artistic director and chief conductor of the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra in Finland. A rather tall and imposing figure over the orchestra, Lintu was on great form all evening. He conducted with great authority and clarity, but also with great passion. He was clearly in command of the music and the players responded accordingly. He had already worked with the evening’s soloist, Angela Hewitt, having recorded Schumann’s Piano Concerto previously with her. The two of them combined this time in producing a very special performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor. It was easy to see why Angela Hewitt is regarded as one of the world’s leading pianists. She performed with total mastery. She brought out the stormy drama of the opening moment with great effect. Her phrasing was exquisite and her semiquaver runs sparkled with life. The orchestra responded with great drama of their own and precision. The famous slow movement was played with faultless phrasing. Every line was beautifully shaped with Hewitt’s playing matching the perfection of Mozart’s music. It was playing of great poetry. This was followed by the lively Rondo, which allowed Hewitt to revel in the humour inherent in the music, occasionally smiling at the audience in order to share the joy and wit of Mozart’s writing.

This was followed in the second half by one of Beethoven’s least performed symphonies, his Symphony no. 4 in B flat. Although not often heard, this is a wonderful symphony, which contains great Beethovenian drama, lyricism and joy. This was when conductor, Hannu Lintu, came into his own. Conducting from memory, he injected this performance with a great sense of drive, energy and passion which infected the orchestra. The full sections, such as the Allegro of the first movement were thrilling, while the slow movement had a good sense of space and serenity. Lintu allowed the final movement to dance along with abandon, while the minor section in the middle had great gravitas, before giving way to the Symphony’s exhilarating conclusion, bringing to an end a thoroughly riveting evening of music making.