At the Pinnacle of Beauty


Stefan Vladar
(c) Gregor Titze

The opportunity to hear all Beethoven’s piano concerti at once comes much too seldom. The Neuberger Kulturtage favoured its audience with this obvious choice of programme. Artistic director Stefan Vladar conducted “his” Vienna Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard through five magnificent performances.

On two occasions, the audience rose to its feet in the Dormitorium: on the first evening after the Third, on the second evening after the Fifth Piano Concerto. In blind understanding, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and its principal conductor demonstrated the development the form underwent thanks to Beethoven. They achieved a golden compromise in their interpretations – between sinking into lyricism and slapping sharply, between vehemently whipped outer movements and precious highlights – demonstrating a canon of musical virtues in an exemplary way. The fact that the acoustics of the hall limited both the dynamic range and the spatial sound was only marginally disturbing. At the Steinway, Vladar succeeded in a balancing act between fulfilling virtuoso demands and artistic presence of mind: masterly, but in no way detached; with abandon, though never hackneyed, he interlaced his sharp-eared playing seamlessly with the orchestra.

After the attentive rendition of the first two concerti, both still fully bound to Mozart, the soloist and orchestra reached their first peak in the Largo of the third, its solemn breadth discharging violently in the finale Rondo. The crowning glory was the fifth concerto, whose breathtaking beauty and heavenly tenderness in the slow movement reached a pinnacle that reminded the audience, listening raptly, why classical concerts are organized.