Mozart – Vienna Philharmonic/Mehta

Symphony No.1 in E flat, K16
Concerto for flute and harp in C, K299
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Dieter Flury (flute) & Charlotte Balzareit (harp)

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 16 December, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Three works of Mozart, two of them in C, lasting a total of barely 75 minutes might be thought to be slim pickings. However, that would be to reckon without the Vienna Philharmonic and in particular without Zubin Mehta. Possibly because he has been conducting at the highest level for so long (with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics from his mid-twenties back at the beginning of the 1960s) there is a tendency to take him for granted. This would be a mistake.

Mozart’s debut symphony has a link with London; it was written when Mozart was 9 years old and was staying in what his sister, Nannerl, describes as a “country house” in Ebury Street in Chelsea, “outside the City of London”. There is also a link with the Jupiter Symphony in that the brief central Andante features a horn motif common to the Jupiter’s finale. This engaging piece of juvenilia received an adequate performance from a much-reduced VPO, the opening Allegro molto rather too relaxed and the final Presto a tad portly.

The Flute and Harp Concerto however was a delight. Played by Dieter Flury, one of the orchestra’s principal flautists who also happens to be General Manager, and the young harpist Charlotte Balzareit, one of the Philharmonic’s two harpists, this offered an unusually egalitarian perspective on a concerto in which the flute can often seem the dominant partner. Perhaps because Flury is primarily an orchestral player rather than a soloist and because Balzareit has the most delicate of touches, the two seemed particularly well yoked, the flautist showing a degree of consideration for his young partner in this unpretentious music.

The Jupiter brought an enlarged orchestra – five double basses instead of two; this was unashamedly big-band Mozart and none the worse for that, the only concession to authenticity being the hard sticks used by the timpanist. Mehta took the repeats in the outer movements and not least the finale’s second half, which gave an entirely apposite weight to the structure. This was a superbly played Jupiter with balances judged to a nicety and the clearest distinction made between detached and slurred notes – how important is such detail in this symphony. Tempos were well chosen, the first movement a genuine Allegro vivace whilst the Molto allegro finale was propulsive but not so fast as to preclude its full quota of joyous contrapuntal energy from registering fully. The slow movement was especially memorable, its unbroken lyrical web effortlessly sustained rather like a great singer in “Porgi amor”. The care put into this performance is perhaps exemplified by the Trio’s very opening phrase, a simple wind chord underpinned by the second horn. Normally all one hears is the flute and bassoons; here the balance was so precisely observed that the horn’s falling fifth registered clearly in a way almost never encountered.

The evening was rounded off by a fizzing account of ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ overture and by Mehta wishing us all happy festivities.

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