Philharmonia/Mackerras/Brendel, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Sir Charles Mackerras's 80th-birthday gala concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra was a heart-lifting occasion. This was a concert of grand old men, the younger soloist, Alfred Brendel, in autumnal mood, conducted by the elder in the sprightliest of form.

Had Mackerras chosen that all too erotic Prelude and Venusberg Music from Tannhäuser as an opener, as if to say "I'm still functioning well"? That's how it seemed, transparent yet voluptuous, brass clear, strings subtly articulated, castanets, tambourine and triangle stars of the piece, upstaging the wind and horns, whose initial tuning left plenty to be desired.

Then came Brendel's spot. Some combinations of soloist and conductor work so well - this is one of them. From the start, it was clear that Brendel and Mackerras are on the same musical wavelength. With the loneliness of the recitalist banished, Brendel was on top form in Mozart's final keyboard concerto, which Mozart performed at his last public appearance. Although this is a late concerto, it isn't grand. Mackerras opted for a steady pace in the outer movements. They are marked allegro, but elegance and intimacy rather than speed produced the warmest of phrasing from soloist and orchestra, Mackerras steering both in impeccable pick-ups and stretched phrase endings.

In the slow movement, Brendel introduced the melting theme with tenderness, as though singing to a child, the simplicity of the playing profound. And in the final movement, Mozart's spring song was stately rather than frisky, autumn clearly over the horizon. At the end of the cadenza, Brendel marvellously turned a corner into the rondo theme, with Mackerras and orchestra joyously joining him.

Schubert's Ninth is called "Great", but Mackerras distinguishes between "Great" and "Grand", allowing Schubert - albeit with grand forces - rather than Beethoven to emerge. Period trumpets gave a thrilling edge to the sound, particularly in the pacy slow movement, where Mackerras built a stupendous climax followed by breathtaking silence. Superb.

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