The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) is nothing if not innovative: there’s The Night Shift, a late-night concert series, and Purcell in a Pub, and now there’s The Works, a fun and informal way to learn more about a classical masterpiece in which the work is deconstructed and analysed before a full performance.

In this, the first of the series, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 came under the spotlight, and our guide for the evening was the charismatic and renowned Mozart scholar and pianist, Robert Levin.

The members of the OAE play genuine, or fine replicas of, period instruments, whose sounds, as Levin said, can “stimulate the imagination”, and offer us a suggestion of how Mozart’s music may have sounded to him. The piano on which Levin performed was a replica Walther, a copy of an instrument Mozart himself would have played.

Levin is an engaging, insightful and entertaining speaker, as well as a fine pianist, and while one may not always agree with what he has to say (and there were a few dissenters in the audience, those who may have been expecting a more traditional concert format), one cannot help but be swept along by his sheer delight in and enthusiasm for his subject.

Levin offered us a view across Mozart’s writing desk, a snapshot of his creative life in 1783 or 1784, when he first began work on the Piano Concerto No. 23. To give us a taste of Mozart’s compositional process, Levin took us back to basics, to the materials Mozart would have used to compose: his paper, his quill pens and his ink. From these clues, Levin concludes that Mozart was “a short order chef”, a composer who wrote what was most likely to bring in income at the time. It is a mark of his genius that he was able to turn his attention to a multitude of works at any one time, and that he could sketch out a work, set it aside, and then return to it at a later date. This is evidenced, claims Levin, by the different papers, inks and pen strokes, and when Mozart returned to the concerto in 1786, there was sufficient framework in place on which he could hang the rest of the work.

Levin also suggests that when Mozart returned to the work in 1786 he may have had a performer other than himself in mind, a fact indicated by a fully written out cadenza, and an embellished second movement. Levin, with the OAE, demonstrated this by playing the earlier 'draft version' of the first movement, and the unadorned second movement. This had a tragic spareness, yet the fleshed-out version was even more heartbreaking, showing the full expressive range of the instrument for which Mozart was writing.

Levin believes that Mozart composed this concerto for a pupil, Barbara Ployer, and that it is possible that she herself wrote out the embellishments to the second movement after hearing Mozart play them, while Mozart actually wrote the cadenza into the score (instead of keeping it separate as he usually did) because he knew she would be playing it.

In his analysis of the final movement, Levin shows Mozart as the recycler and the mischievous joker, drawing inspiration and lifting music from other works, or hinting at works to come. This is possibly one of his most cheerful, uplifting and joyous movements, redolent of The Marriage of Figaro. Yet there’s a brief hint of the tragedy of the second movement, before warmth floods in again and the rollicking rondo theme returns.

The talk was followed by a complete performance of the work, Levin directing from the piano with much gusto and head-nodding. I have seen him in action before with the OAE, and it is clearly a very happy and friendly partnership. There’s no doubting the musicians’ enjoyment in working with such a musical personality as Robert Levin, and the audience felt it too, for the applause at the end of the performance was enthusiastic and sustained.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating event. Levin is able to pitch his subject at a level that is accessible to non-specialists, and his wealth of gossipy titbits and “Mozart ephemera” brought the music to life in a completely new way. It may not be to everybody’s taste, but if you want to get under the skin of a classical masterpiece, I can thoroughly recommend The Works. The next event in the series is next March, with harpsichordist Laurence Cummings.