With the chilly evenings and the glimmering Christmas lights already upon us, it seems somehow appropriate if stereotypical to get a taste of Vienna on our doorstep. And so we did, with all three giants of its first school there with some of their most popular outputs: Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony, Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto and Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony. Three favourites composed less than a decade apart from each other.

© Andreas Balon
© Andreas Balon

With this crowd-pleasing programme, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Adám Fischer and with pianist Maria João Pires as a soloist, performed, and will continue to do so in the coming days, in some of Spain’s cities: Zaragoza, Barcelona and Oviedo join Madrid as selected destinations for their music.

Haydn’s Symphony no. 101 in D major, later nicknamed “The Clock”, opened the concert and was all everyone who had bought a ticket would have expected: radiant, light and uplifting. It is not hard to imagine the ecstatic reaction from the audience sitting in the Hanover Square Rooms, the main concert venue in London at the time, who listened to this piece from “the inexhaustible, the wonderful, the sublime Haydn”, as the Morning Chronicle put it in its report of the symphony première.

Fischer is most at home with this repertoire. He is one of few conductors to have undertaken the colossal project of recording all of Haydn’s symphonies, which he did in the late 1990s with the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra for the Nimbus label. He is also behind the establishment of the Haydn Festival at Eisenstadt. So he is certainly, and indeed visibly, familiar with the Father of the Symphony. The orchestra responded to his knowledgeable approach, and it is this piece that brought conductor and musicians together in the most successful way. They played brilliantly, smartly and with the necessary pinch of salt.

Yet, there was the Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 2 in B flat major, Op. 19. This no. 2 was, in fact, written before no. 1 – yet published after it – by a young, gifted pianist from Bonn who wanted to get noticed in Vienna. Owing much to Mozart, it is still an extraordinary piece to hear as it unrolls so much of what would make Beethoven the most admired composer in the city just a few years later.

And there was, rising above all, the force of nature that is Pires. This concert could have very well been written for her, such is her understanding of the universe of contrasts in which Beethoven’s music lives. She is able to make the most improbable modulation sound like a smooth transition, breathing through the bars and keeping a balance among voices. She is uncompromising and reliable yet ready to go with the unexpected that lurks in the score. She emerged elegantly from the orchestra and dived back in. The orchestra, however, did not always manage to stay with her, and at times lagged an instant behind. Yet she cruised to the end and made the concert seem as easy to play as an ABRSM level 1 piece. She marvelled the audience and even succeeded in silencing the wannabe soloists whose coughs were particularly inspired this evening.

Such a highpoint could only have a less impressive furtherance. Yet Mozart’s Symphony no. 41 in C major, K.551, his last and his most monumental, saw Fischer back in control after some glitches with Beethoven. He got the orchestra to perform a tremendous first movement, which, along with the spirited fugato at the end of the fourth movement, was the highlight of a piece about which finale Sir George Grove observed “nowhere has he [Mozart] achieved more”.

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