In yesterday’s matinee concert at the Konzerthaus, the Wiener KammerOrchester, Stefan Vladar and Thomas Quasthoff presented music by Mozart, Prokofiev and Poulenc in a family-friendly format. It was an afternoon of beautiful music geared towards the young and the young at heart. Since my toddler was already booked for an important playdate, I borrowed the nine-year old daughter of a neighbour for the afternoon and the two of us headed downtown for her first ever classical music concert.

Stefan Vladar © Gregor Titze
Stefan Vladar
© Gregor Titze

Mozart’s final Piano Concerto no. 27 in B-flat major opened the programme with Vladar conducting and accompanying. Vladar has been the principal conductor of the KammerOrchester since 2008 and the level of comfort between him and this excellent ensemble is palpable – not that the ensemble seems to need much help being unified and directed. The KammerOrchester plays as if all its members are sharing the same soul and their attention to detail in terms of phrasing, dynamic shifts and style is exceptional. Vladar got them off to a brisk start in the Mozart and their energy and engagement did not lag. Throughout this Mozartian masterpiece, undeniably one of the pearls of perfection in a sea of instrumental literature, Vladar’s attention to timing and expressive articulation were particularly appreciated. In the Larghetto middle movement his fingers sang tunefully, and the playful final movement exuded childlike exuberance.

Poulenc’s L’histoire de Babar, le petit éléphant followed, with Thomas Quasthoff narrating. For those unfamiliar with the work, it traces the life of a little elephant, Babar, from his birth to his exploits in the big city to his return to the jungle, marriage and coronation as king (after the old king dies of eating a poisonous mushroom). Along the way the little elephant befriends an old woman, does a good deal of shopping, eats every sort of dessert imaginable and even drives a car. Every section of spoken text paints such a specifically delightful tableau that one cannot help smiling, and Poulenc’s particular harmonic world, his gift for colorful scoring and sense of humor permeate the entire work. High points include the portrayal of vocal exercises done by the old woman and imitated by Babar, and a scene where three young elephants drive their car out of the city with two mother elephants running beside them – trunks aloft to avoid breathing all the soot and smog. The work draws to a sleepy close the night after the coronation celebration with the words “Nobody bit anyone, nobody ate anyone. It was a very nice party”.

After the interval Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf rounded off the afternoon. The brass and winds were particularly brilliant in their depictions of the well-known characters: the little bird, the duck, the cat, the wolf and the grandfather. Quasthoff, whose vocal gifts are legendary, was an exceptionally warm, beautiful speaker. He lent weight and authority to both stories and coloured his voice to match everyone from heroic young Peter in the Prokofiev to the wisest, oldest elephant in the Poulenc.

As we left the Konzerthaus, after an enthusiastic reception, my nine-year-old companion told me that she had enjoyed the concert thoroughly. “The stage is not as big as the one in Die Grosse Chance on television,” she added, “but it was still really, really good!”