Three symphonies in one programme! Anyone who has ever sat through all ninety minutes of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony would be permitted a slight shudder upon reading the concert order of Sir Simon Rattle’s latest performance with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Fortunately for all those with babysitters or tube tickets, however, these works were as far removed from Mahler’s enormous work as it is possible to be: the Haydn and Mozart symphonies performed last night were each shorter than the first movement of Mahler’s.

The concert explored the very early symphonies, from a period when ‘Papa’ Haydn had only just begun to make the form into the primary feature of classical music. His most talented pupil, Mozart, seized the form and made it his own, taking it so far that it seemed as though the symphony could be perfected no further in the Classical era.

Despite being his 64th symphony, the first work of the evening came from the period when Haydn’s experiment with the form was only just beginning to mature. It contains the madcap drama never far away in Haydn’s music; however there is less of the unexpected about it than can be found in later works. Rattle and the orchestra did their best to disguise this, managing exceedingly well by emphasising the dynamic changes in order to remove any sense of predictability. The stately dance of the third movement demonstrated the winning flexibility of the OAE. A well-observed rule of authentic performance is that the dance must never change speed; however Rattle achieved a far more exhilarating effect by beginning the dance rather slowly and accelerating to a tempo which would have wreaked havoc in an eighteenth century ballroom.

Mozart’s Concerto in E flat for two pianos was a virtuosic showpiece for himself and his sister Nannerl, the limelight being shared equally between the siblings by having one part echo the other. This equality remained felicitous yesterday evening: not that one can imagine a sisterly squabble breaking out between Katia and Mareille Labèque, however two such accomplished players deserve an equal share of the attention. The pair manoeuvred their way around the busy concerto admirably, although from their extreme gestures one felt they were more limited by the period instruments than the orchestra. The orchestra provided a transparent accompaniment that both supported and dazzled, its small size and use of softer period instruments allowing it to can far below the quietest pianissimo of a symphony orchestra,

Mozart’s 33rd Symphony was written in the same year as the double piano Concerto and shares its light-hearted, graceful style. It was in this piece that the OAE wind players really shone; their delicate sound all the more enchanting when you consider the early instruments on which they perform. Rattle provided a tasteful reading of the symphony, skimming over the less refined elements of the composer’s taste; however the third movement’s folk-dance rhythms could have been more robustly emphasised.

And so to the third and final symphony of the evening: Haydn’s 95th Symphony, written after the death of Haydn’s greatest pupil. The work is one of twelve composed for the London audience during the composer’s trips abroad and demonstrates the confidence shown by a composer at the peak of his success. The Symphony does not begin with a slow introduction and uses many jarring changes of key, devices Haydn felt were necessary to maintain the attention of his unsophisticated London audience! Three centuries on, the audience needed no such trickery but appreciated it just the same: Rattle and the OAE relished every sudden turn and bombastic moments, once again refusing to stick to the rules when it would be more exciting to through them out of the window. The OAE’s tagline is “Not all orchestras are the same”: at first glance this seems blindingly obvious. How could an orchestra which is a different size, plays on different instruments and plays different repertoire to a symphony orchestra be in any way the same? Dive beneath the blindingly obvious, however, and the statement gains more resonance: the virtuosity and flexibility of its players and the unique sound they make, not to mention their longstanding relationship with Sir Simon, ensures that the OAE is one of the world’s finest orchestras whilst being entirely its own.