Fantastic Concert in Bristol last night! Mozart’s 27th Piano Concerto played with elegance and poise by the peerless Imogen Cooper in the first half and then Beethoven’s ninth (Choral) Symphony in the second; each work marking the zenith of both composers’ genius. The Philharmonia Orchestra of London (which has a residency at Bristol) and its Chorus, supplemented by members of the local city’s Choir together with four young soloists, gave a stunning performance of the Beethoven.
The Principal Guest Conductor of the orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras, directed two such different pieces with immense rhythmical fluency but also tight discipline. The first two movements of the symphony were played very briskly but with great attention to detail and a wonderful balance between the instruments. I have rarely heard finer string playing than in the first movement, the great tune sounding like spun gold. The last movement– so strange to its original audience and breaking the boundaries of musical taste and still difficult to bring off – was overwhelming, the double bass coming into their own as musical narrator, facing the audience from the back of the stage, and working hard.
Mackerras has been a hero of mine ever since I owned a recording of his arrangement of Gilbert and Sullivan operas for the ballet Pineapple Poll. Almost single-handedly he rescued Leon Janaeck from provincial obscurity by championing the Czech composer’s music for many years, recording all the operas and often doing so with Czech orchestras and artists. He has undertaken a lot of research into the performance practice of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but is probably the most accomplished all-round conductor in the world. He may specialise in various genres but seems able to give the same dedication and skill to a wide variety of music.
He has recorded seven of Mozart’s operas and all his symphonies. This year he will be working with the Berlin, Vienna and Czech Philharmonic Orchestras amongst others.
Now over 80, Mackerras still conducts with an infectious enthusiasm and genial warmth and though last night he was supported by a stool on which he occasionally leaned, he had all the vigour of a man much younger than his years. The audience rose to him at the end of the Beethoven, as did the orchestra, the chorus and the soloists. A very great occasion!