Yes, it was a chilly night, and yes, there was probably plenty of competition elsewhere. But it was a shamefully small audience that turned out for the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s visit to the Usher Hall.
Even worse, anyone who wasn’t there missed one of the finest concerts that the hall has hosted in recent months.
The orchestra – made up of players who had grown too old for the revered Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, but couldn’t face abandoning each other – was on exceptional form, velvet-toned yet assertive, astonishingly vivid, with musicians responding to each other’s playing with the precision and enthusiasm of an oversized chamber group.
And the perhaps surprising combination of Stravinsky and Beethoven proved revelatory. The clean lines and rhythmic energy of Stravinsky’s neo-classical Dumbarton Oaks and Septet – at least in the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s strikingly characterful accounts – made the ideal counterpoint to a bracing pair of Beethoven piano concertos.
Indeed, Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes had a hectic evening, leaping up and down from his stool as both soloist and conductor in the two concertos as well as supplying the keyboard part for the Stravinsky Septet.
Andsnes was breathtakingly effective, though – at once poetic and muscular in the Beethoven Third Concerto, his rippling fingerwork a constant delight, and sparkling in the earlier Second Concerto, which he played with an eloquent lightness of touch. He was unafraid to be simple, and he produced exquisite playing as a result.
It was truly a concert to live long in the memory.