The Mozart in the City series featuring the Sydney Symphony Orchestra is really a series of supper concerts starting as it does at 7pm and finishing – without an interval – at 8:30pm, allowing the audience time to disperse to nearby restaurants and bars. It also features a "mystery" segment showing that the format is essentially light-hearted in nature. On this occasion, the title was "Mozart and the Brits".

Sydney Symphony Orchestra © Keith Saunders
Sydney Symphony Orchestra
© Keith Saunders

First on the programme was the Adagio and Fugue in C minor by Mozart in the version for string orchestra.The short adagio is very sombre in nature while the fugue is very complicated and also, at times, dissonant with major chords in the upper strings playing simultaneously with minor chords in the cellos and double basses. The work is thought to be the result of a detailed study by Mozart of Bach's counterpoint technique which culminated in the celebrated finale of the Jupiter Symphony. There was no commission for the work and the Adagio was actually lost for many years. Certainly, the work was handled with great sensitivity by the strings but perhaps lacked some of the dramatic emphasis that the wok demanded.

Then followed the Double Violin Concerto by Malcolm Arnold, a work originally commissioned by Yehudi Menuin and Albert Lysy for the Bath Festival in 1962. Many programme notes for this work emphasise its tunefulness while mentioning, as an aside, its dissonance but I found the latter the more prominent feature. The final movement offers some relief with an approachable, bouncy theme but the movement then comes to arguably a premature end. The work afforded a platform for young SSO violinists Emily Long and Freya Franzen who interacted well, showing a great deal of sensitivity and accuracy and were particularly impressive in the duo rather than the solo passages.

The last work was Benjamin Britten's Variations on a theme by Frank Bridge, his early mentor, teacher and friend. They kept in close touch and the story has it that as Britten was waiting on a ship to depart to the USA to remove himself from the war in Europe, a breathless Frank Bridge rushed onboard and presented him with a gift of his favourite violin. The work was written for the 1937 Salzburg Festival and was apparently well received there.

There are ten variations on the theme from Bridge's Idyll no. 2 and each variation is supposed to represent aspects of Bridge's character. He must have been an easy-going character since the overall tone is light hearted, even humorous in nature. Andrew Haveron seemed to appreciate this with the overall impression hardly interrupted by the laid back funeral march. Both variation three and six are waltzes in the Viennese style, the seventh features tremolo playing in the lower registers and the eighth has a prominent triplet rhythm in the double basses. The last movement features the basses again in a brilliant flourishing episode before ending in a slow sad finale. The audience cetainly warmed to the atmosphere, even with mirth at times, and the final applause was deafening.

I nearly forgot the Mystery Moment: in fact, it was in three segments which I recognized as English but it didn't click that they were movements from the original Bridge Idyll – the third, in particular, was beautiful in its tonality and explained why Britten chose this Idyll for his framework. All in all, a greatly pleasing concert in a lighter mood.