There is a remarkable story about Portugese pianist Maria João Pires and a Mozart concerto, which she was due to perform with Riccardo Chailly in Amsterdam. The orchestra played the opening bars of the D minor concerto; however, this was not the one Pires was expecting to play. Miraculously, Pires continued to give an assured performance, revealing her extraordinary musical capacity. Thankfully, there was no such confusion on this occasion, although Pires had stepped in last minute to replace an indisposed Murray Perahia, who had been due to perform the Schumann concerto.

© Matthias Creutziger
© Matthias Creutziger

The last concerto Mozart wrote for the piano, K595 is gentle and intimate, more like chamber music than some of his more virtuosic earlier works. Pires' temperament was well-suited to this particular Mozart concerto: thoughtful and unflashy. She is a pianist who leaves nothing to chance - everything was carefully paced and balanced. This was most keenly felt in the Larghetto, which had a nursery rhyme-like symmetry in its simple opening theme.

The Rondo Allegro was a delight, with hands leap-frogging across the keyboard in astonishingly bright runs. Haitink maintained a tightly-knit link between orchestra and soloist throughout, particularly in the finale where there was quickfire dialogue between woodwind and piano, and a touching duet between the soloist and first
violins.

Bruckner's Fourth Symphony (the 'Romantic') was given a descriptive programme by the composer - the opening string tremolando and expansive horn theme suggesting an enchanted woodland, along with other mythical scenes from history. Bruckner's skilled orchestration gave us a wide spectrum of colours, from the languid, chromatic descent
in the first movement to the terrifying body of sound that came later with the weighty minor-key theme.

The viola section took centre stage for the second movement funeral march, which kept returning to their mournful, muted theme. The scherzo bubbled with excitement in its opening crescendo, featuring striking harmonic juxtapositions of unrelated chords. Bruckner's 'knights and huntsmen' revealed themselves in the military call-and-response between horns and trumpets. The opening of the finale was full of foreboding, generated by pulsating bass and oscillating violins. The symphony's characteristic triplet rhythm which permeates the music throughout became more and more obsessive here.

In this performance, Haitink navigated us on a musical journey that helped make sense of the work's vast proportions. This was not an easy task in a work that makes great demands on the listener, but the devastating climax and powerful orchestral unison made this journey a immensely worthwhile one.