Vienna and Bogotá share few things in common: delicious coffee and rich chocolate are the two which readily spring to mind. Mozart must now be considered a third connection. Despite the setting of the Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo’s wood and concrete shell, from the second bar of the overture to Così fan tutte, we were transported to the Austrian capital. That distinctively reedy, pungent oboe solo could only be from Vienna and Andreas Pöttler’s seductive phrasing immediately signalled this concert from the Vienna Chamber Orchestra would be something special. It proved to be as Viennese as Sachertorte.

Stefan Vladar and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra © Juan Ruy Castaño
Stefan Vladar and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra
© Juan Ruy Castaño

Often a whirl of flailing arms, Stefan Vladar conducted in energetic style, both from the keyboard and when standing in front of his orchestra (no podium required). At times, he would shape the air, moulding the music with his bare hands; at others, he would slash and slice horizontally, as if condemning a victim to the guillotine. His style transferred adroitly to the orchestra’s playing: the overture to Così had plenty of punch, and with such depth to the string playing that is was difficult to reconcile the richness of sound with the sight of just 20 players (6-4-4-4-2).  

The Piano Concerto no. 24 in C minor – the only one Mozart wrote in this key (and the only one to both start and finish in a minor key) – was pure delight. From the ghostly sadness of the opening, the stabbing dissonances of the first movement Allegro were struck home hard. The brass made plenty of impact in outer movements, but the thing that delighted most was the colour on display from the excellent woodwind team: bright, golden flute, bustling good humour from the bassoons. Piquant oboes and gurgling clarinets – this was the only piano concerto in which Mozart used both – completed the line-up; in short, the most characterful woodwind ensemble playing I’ve heard in Mozart for years.

With his back to the audience, Vladar’s playing matched his conducting style – forthright, but stylish, responding to the woodwind colours as if in friendly dialogue. For all its grandeur, the first movement died away, Vladar’s whispered arpeggios the aural equivalent of a wistful smile. He played the theme of the second movement Larghetto with winning simplicity, as the conversation with the woodwinds was extended. An air of sadness weighed over the finale, a theme and (mostly minor key) variations, often with a march-like quality, purposefully coaxed from Vladar at the keyboard to bring a fine performance to a close.

From C minor to C major: even such a first half didn’t quite prepare me for the terrific account of the “Jupiter” Symphony which was delivered after the interval; energetic, muscular, dazzling. The Allegro vivace had plenty of vigour, from its opening ‘call to arms’, recalling the martial quality from the concerto. The C minor section possessed plenty of Sturm und Drang in this reading. Vladar led a pacy, often exhilarating account, yet gave the Andante cantabile plenty of room to breathe with its muted strings, while the Menuet was stately, but still conducted at the correct one-in-a-bar.

The finale, with its glorious fugue-style counterpoint and Classical ebullience, was overwhelming. The sheer joy in playing such magnificent music was embodied by the pair of double bass players, sawing away furiously, broadly grinning at each other; bow hairs flew and one even had to apply rosin mid-finale!

Bogotá has plenty of superb European ensembles and soloists in this mammoth Mozart-fest, but there can be no finer exponents of Viennese style than this tremendous orchestra.          

*****