Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart: four insurmountable composers, each a titan of classical music in his own right. Every one of these composers would normally dominate a position of focus in a classical concert programme. It is rare, therefore, to see these composers side by side in a concert, simply due to a need for variety and not a heavy-handed evening filled with canonical works.

Orchestre de chambre de Paris © Jean-Baptiste Millot
Orchestre de chambre de Paris
© Jean-Baptiste Millot

And yet, this was precisely the programme offered by the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris for its recent concert at the Theatre des Champs Elysées. It was clear, however, that this selection was not merely the result of a lucky dip in the “Who’s Who” bag of classical music, but rather a carefully justified selection of works by each of these composers. Opening with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, the concert only grew in strength. Brahms’ Violin Sonata no. 1 in G major was next, leading into Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4 in G major. In conclusion was Mozart’s Symphony no. 41 in C major, “Jupiter”.

Growing from a solo keyboard work to a full symphony, the concert offered audiences a gradual but constant crescendo, building in size and power as the evening progressed. Furthermore, the chosen works seemingly reflected each composer’s most suited genre. Bach’s keyboard music is only rivalled by his choral work; Brahms’ solo instrumental music is as intricate yet powerful as his symphonies; and the concertos and symphonies penned by Beethoven and Mozart are some of the most powerful and unforgettable in classical music. This was to be, therefore, an evening not so much of musical discovery, but rather an evening of comfort, confirming yet again why, despite much 21st-century criticism, the classical canon exists.

Although the original programme listed Stephen Kovacevich as the conductor and pianist for the evening, he was unfortunately taken ill, and replaced by French pianist Michel Dalberto (a musician known for having recorded the complete piano works of Schubert). Whilst audiences may have briefly longed for a concert with Kovacevich at the helm, these thoughts were quickly dispelled as the first notes of Bach’s music left the piano. Though I was slightly disappointed at the sight of the grand and powerful Bernstein piano on stage rather than a more fitting harpsichord, Dalberto’s performance (from memory) was of such a light touch that this switch was of little importance. The left hand managed to avoid the booming resonance of the grand piano, blending perfectly with the right hand to form the five-part counterpoint for which this particular fugue is famous. Furthermore, Dalberto drew a connection between the five-part counterpoint found in this fugue and the five-part counterpoint of the final movement of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, proving yet again the care and thought that had gone into the programme.

Dalberto then moved to the background, as he accompanied French violinist Deborah Nemtanu in her performance of Brahms’ famous violin sonata. Nemtanu’s performance may have slightly lacked the power required to reach the very back of the hall, but this only resulted in the audience holding their coughs, leaning in and appreciating the performance even more. The first movement was fiery yet sweet, exciting yet patient, and Nemtanu displayed great confidence. Whilst I personally would have preferred greater warmth and a slower vibrato in the second, slow movement (her fast vibrato only resulted in rather shrill and frantic playing), her technique and passion were clear for all to see in the final movement.

A quick stage rearrangement brought Dalberto back to the foreground, this time conducting the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris from the piano, playing Beethoven’s fiendishly challenging Piano Concerto no. 4 (again from memory), allowing him to be fully engaged as both the soloist and the conductor. Unable, therefore, to rely entirely on their conductor, the orchestra followed their leader superbly, playing totally together at all times. Dalberto performed Beethoven’s own cadenzas in both the first and third movements, bringing the end of the first half to an epic high.

Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony made for a fantastic finish to the concert. Proving his complete mastery of the evening’s music, Dalberto appeared once again scoreless on stage, and immediately started the triumphant first movement with confidence, locking eyes with every member of the orchestra with a rare and appreciated intimacy. The orchestra, in turn, understood each one of Dalberto’s emotive gestures and moved from triumph, to sorrow in the Andante cantabile, to brooding confidence in the Menuetto, and unbridled joy in the Finale – a molto allegro, which was taken molto allegro indeed. This, however, was not an issue for an orchestra, which, moving between these titans with ease, had proved itself undoubtedly capable.