Ádám Fischer’s reading of the Adagio introduction to Mozart’s ‘Prague’ Symphony gripped the attention and the Allegro was dramatic with much attention given to dynamic contrast enhanced by the wind instruments of the OAE giving a convincingly ‘period’ flavour to the performance. Although the applause immediately following the movement was irritating, worse was to come because after a beautifully phrased Andante there was even more clapping and the conductor left the platform returning with Stéphanie d'Oustrac to sing from La clemenza di Tito; only after that was the Finale of the ‘Prague’ performed. Fischer adopted a convincingly swift tempo in which the flying violin passages were admirably precise. So, amid interruptions an exceptional performance of Mozart 38 was heard.
’Parto, parto’ followed. Operatic excerpts sit uncomfortably within an orchestral concert but the intention seems to have been to justify the title “The Corridors of Power”. Immediately below that title the programme printed a quotation: “What muddled folly of dark thoughts clouds my reason”; this certainly gives food for thought. While questioning the appropriateness of these operatic excerpts, it was a joy to hear Stéphanie d'Oustrac’s strikingly beautiful voice. Unlike the OAE strings, she did use vibrato and there is always contention regarding the extent to which this device was employed during the eighteenth-century. Here she used it tastefully, enhancing the beauty of the vocal lines and the dramatic moments within the arias were achieved powerfully but with no sense of effort.
Haydn’s Scena di Berenice followed the interval; this is a concert piece and was given its premiere in London in the same concert as Haydn’s Symphony 104. Despite its popularity it is one of Haydn’s least interesting works which, after a mixture of recitative and aria styles, only wakes up in the fierce passion of the extensive final section which gives virtuosic opportunities for the singer; d'Oustrac was superb, an anguished text certainly, but given a controlled yet exciting delivery.
Haydn 103 did not begin with the eponymous ‘Drum Roll’ but an introductory fanfare. This is justifiable because in the opening bar the timpani part is merely a dotted minim marked Intrada. When the figure reappears at bar 202, Adrian Bending provided a shorter version. Fischer’s was a thoughtful reading with carefully shaped phrases and hints of crescendo to emphasize dramatic moments. To his great credit the conductor quietened the clappers after the first movement, indicating that there was more to come yet even after the slow movement (including a sensitive rendering of the violin solo from Pavlo Besnosiuk) a clique from this Mafia remained and he had to make the same indication again. The only tendency to stray outside what may be considered ‘authentic’ style was the application of strong rhythmic emphases within the Minuet; they were very effective but the movement could not have been danced to, and Fischer raced excitingly through the Finale. I regret that the bars which rove quietly into strange keys near the end were not played (they were lost somewhere between the London performances and the first Viennese publication) but when Fischer jumped into the air it was clear that he was going straight into the clamorous coda – and very thrilling it was.