Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn in B-flat Major, Op. 56a
Haydn: Piano Concerto in D Major, Hob.XVIII: 11
Brahms: Symphony No 4 in E Minor, Op. 98
Now in its 43rd year, the Mostly Mozart Festival continues to pay tribute to the Austrian composer not only by performing various parts from his impressive oeuvre, but also by branching out to the works of numerous composers he was more or less closely connected to. So last night I was at the Avery Fisher Hall where Brahms was the headliner, his Variations and Symphony No 4 bookmarking Haydn's delightful piano concerto No 4. Acclaimed Viennese pianist Stefan Vladar was in charge of the concerto, and French conductor Louis Langrée was back on the podium for the seventh year in a row, bringing his extensive experience of Mozart's music to the celebration of the composer's unequal influence. My aversion to the Avery Fisher Hall has not completely disappeared, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and it was air-conditioned!
Brahm's eight Variations on a Theme by Haydn and their Finale were fun little playthings that kept on coming at us in all sorts of moods, although a summer-appropriate light-heartedness definitely prevailed. The attendance was surprisingly sparse, but nevertheless deeply appreciative.
Haydn's piano concerto was a sparkling, witty tribute to Mozart's more elaborate concertos, and Stefan Vladar kept his dexterous fingers expertly fluttering on the keys, making the whole 20 minutes literally fly by.
After the freshness of tone of Haydn's concerto, we had to switch gears and get mentally prepared for the perfectionist rigorousness of Brahm's Symphony No 4. After originally stirring audiences with its darkness and severity, it eventually earned its well-deserved reputation as one of classical music masterpieces. The majestic first movement opened with its ambiguous recurring motive and was so captivating that it received a spontaneous wave of applause. The orchestra's momentum did not falter, and took us through a subdued Andante moderato, boisterous Scherzo and thunderous grand Finale. Brahms, even Mozart, would have been impressed, and so was I. It was an auspicious beginning, and I couldn't wait for more.