The fours was well and truly with us at this exceptional concert given by the OAE and Roy Goodman in memory of the late Sir Charles Mackerras. The programme was planned by Mackerras, and he was scheduled to conduct this programme, which given that this was the 4th of May, took the fours as its starting point, namely Mozarts Symphony No.40 in G minor, Beethovens Piano Concerto No.4 in G, and Schuberts Symphony No.4 in C minor.
In a touching pre-performance speech, Goodman reminded us of the genius of Sir Charles Mackerras and how he had been in the vanguard of period performance practice. He went on to say that he was adopting the tempo markings for the Mozart which had been prescribed by Hummel which are pretty fast, but Hummel was nearer to Mozarts time than we are and that in the Beethoven the soloist Artur Pizarro would be playing it in a way sanctioned by Carl Czerny, who gave the premieres of both Beethovens first and fifth piano concertos.
Both performances were nothing short of a revelation. The Mozart can often come across as tired and familiar, but not here – from the outset Goodman and the wonderfully alert players of the OAE injected the first movement with an exciting sense of anticipation, gloriously phrased, perfectly balanced between woodwind and strings (which is no mean feat given the lighter sound of period winds) and properly thrilling in the climaxes. Similarly in the following movements it was like listening to the work for the first time, or at least like having years of slushy romanticism excised from the work. The last movement Allegro assai was taken at a break-neck speed, which nevertheless seemed spot on and brought the symphony to a terrific climax
Artur Pizarro has recorded Beethovens 4th Piano Concerto with Mackerras and the SCO (Linn Recordings unmissable), and whilst period practice was followed, here he was performing on a period piano with a period instrument orchestra. The results were revelatory. Unusually for a classical concerto the Fourth starts with the soloist alone the first chord played as an arpeggio here by Pizarro with the orchestras hushed entry emulating that of the soloist. Hearing this work played on a piano from the early 19th Century was astonishing as it had amazing clarity, and Pizarros playing throughout was immaculate, enthralling (no more so than in the first movements virtuoso cadenza) and technically faultless. Goodman proved to be a most deft accompanist, and the balance between orchestra and soloist was perfect. The second movement marked Andante never dragged there was plenty of forward propulsion and in these introspective passages Pizarro really shone. The Rondo Vivace was a whirlwind of energy and unusually for a concerto from this time the soloist keeps up his solo fireworks right through the final orchestral tutti, bringing this performance to its jubilant conclusion. This was music-making of the highest calibre and will linger long in the memory.
After the interval we were treated to an immaculate performance of Schuberts Symphony No.4 in C minor. With its expressive, melodic writing and wide-ranging harmonies, this Symphony exudes originality and Goodman and the orchestra brought its wide-ranging orchestral palette to vivid life. There was an encore. Goodman told us that we would be hearing the world premiere of the original version of the overture to Figaro which had been unearthed in Cambridge, alluding to the fact that the original titled mentioned Susanna, Or Susie as she was known. The orchestra played the first few bars of the original then burst into a thoroughly modern arrangement of If you knew Susie, like I knew Susie. It rightly brought the house down. Im sure Sir Charles would have approved.
Further details of Queen Elizabeth Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk