The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has spent a week in Japan, giving concerts all over the country; and its final performance took place at Suntory Hall on the venue's actual 30th birthday. Under Mehta's baton, the Philharmonic delivered to the full house Mozart's “Linz” Symphony and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The Philharmonic has a good longstanding relationship with Japan, marking its 100th performance in the country during its 33rd visit. It has given several performances in the areas affected by the earthquake in 2011, and has participated in charity events regarding the tragedy.

Zubin Mehta conducts Mozart with the Vienna Philharmonic © Suntory Hall
Zubin Mehta conducts Mozart with the Vienna Philharmonic
© Suntory Hall

The instrumentation for Mozart’s symphony was on the chamber orchestra scale, with 30 strings and eight wind instruments plus timpani. Mozartean drive was never lost in the fast tempo movements, and the exceptional artistry of the orchestra in its ensemble skills and musicality were seen in the slower second movement. The ensemble aesthetically brought out the slow dance-like feel, reminiscent of Baroque siciliano gestures. Impeccably clean intonation of the strings and the remarkably beautiful harmonic movements of the woodwinds enlivened the composer's passion and genius. The astounding chamber orchestra version of the Philharmonic certainly took the audience back in time to Mozart's era and to the orchestra's homeland. However, with this smaller set up of first violins and cellos (and double basses) on the left, the string sound balance at times seemed a bit lopsided. The outer voices came across a bit too present, enlarging the left hemisphere of the stage, while the inner voices comparatively became slightly and inevitably less in volume on the right. This imbalance did not occur in Beethoven's Ninth, where the full orchestra and the chorus were on stage.

Zubin Mehta, soloists and chorus © Suntory Hall
Zubin Mehta, soloists and chorus
© Suntory Hall

The second half of the concert was Japan’s all time favorite classical piece, Beethoven Ninth Symphony. The reason for its extraordinary popularity in this country is multi-layered, but regardless, it was only suitable that the Vienna Philharmonic delivered it to the Japanese audience in celebrating the hall’s 30th birthday, as it is a piece that is widely known and is one of the central classical works familiar to Japanese ears. The first three movements flowed so beautifully and naturally, and the Philharmonic, with their world-class musicianship in technique and artistry, facilitated the audience to enjoy the phonic beauty with such ease. The chorus was a combination of three choirs, showing no sign of imbalance or discrepancy among the groups. The chorus was in fact a noteworthy component to this delightful concert, as the groups sang so well (without scores), and the balance with the Philharmonic was just right. The four solo voices also sang wonderfully, though it was somewhat an odd view to notice the German bass using a score while three others (Japanese) did not.

Nevertheless, Beethoven's Ninth was more than successfully delivered, and the artists on stage were congratulated with a sincere lasting ovation. Hats off to Maestro Mehta and the Vienna Philharmonic.