The Sydney Symphony Orchestra opened its 2018 season with three interconnected programs, presenting a cross-section of the mature orchestral compositions of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s last seven years. All three programs followed the same structure, albeit with different works on each night. Piano concertos received a particular emphasis in this series, with two of them being performed every night by the veteran American pianist Emanuel Ax. These works were bookended by the overtures of the three so-called Da Ponte operas at the beginning and the last three symphonies at the end. The ingenious planning of this trifecta of Mozart music, though admirable, would have been more effective had the three symphonies been performed in their chronological order: thus Program One (emphasising the relatively rare minor keys) following Program Two. After all, Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s advocacy for the idea of a unity (amounting to a giant symphonic cycle) between the three symphonies, which were composed at an incredible speed over two months in 1788, is persuasive. Only the first of these, the Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K 543, starts with an overture-like slow introduction; and only the last, Symphony No. 41 in C major, K 551 (Jupiter), has a powerful, winner-takes-it-all finale.
The overtures to Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, and The Marriage of Figaro – short but impressive concert openers – demonstrated great dynamic contrasts and musical energy. These three operas share the buoyancy and humour of brilliant texts – by no means common features in eighteenth-century opera – written by Italian librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte.