Photograph taken during one of this week’s rehearsals

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Herkulessaal, Munich [without an audience]

But for Covid-19 the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Zubin Mehta would currently be on a short tour (I assume originally designed for the late Mariss Jansons) including Paris, Hamburg and London – the latter, January 25 at the Barbican Centre, would have consisted of the Overture to Wagner’s Rienzi, Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, and Dvořák 7.

Staying at home, the Bavarians offered this slimline “alternative concert” of Classical Symphonies, Haydn 96 and Schubert 3. (Vilde Frang playing a Mozart Violin Concerto, the A-major K219, didn’t happen, the soloist falling foul of travel restrictions.)

The Haydn (one of his twelve ‘London’ Symphonies, 93-104) opened solemnly before giving way to a gambolling Allegro, Mehta finding corners of the music that a racier view might have lost. The slow movement had time on its side for elegance and for contrasts to make their mark, and then it was best-foot-forward for an alert Minuet and much rusticity was exuded for the oboe-led Trio. With a perky Finale, this was an enjoyable listen.

No interval, so it was straight to the Schubert, a Mehta favourite – and there was no doubting the affection he lavished on it, not least bubbly woodwind detailing (subtle timpani, too, yet every note counted), the musicians playing with pleasure. Following a buoyant first movement the second was more to Beecham and Böhm than to Carlos Kleiber, Viennese charm to the fore. Sure, the Scherzo-like Minuet could have had greater vigour, but did not lack for point, the Trio deliciously turned – and this model of wonderfully bygone-era music-making (to its own time, not to the clock on the wall) concluded with a relaxed yet dancing Finale.

Beforehand, Mehta had led the Bavarian Radio Choir in the two a cappella numbers – ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Laudi alla vergine Maria’ – from Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces, contemplative miniatures of rapt beauty, beautifully sung, transporting in their effect.

Not surprisingly, from one of the doyen broadcasters, the sound was excellent.