To take the concerto first. It is of course possible to play Beethoven successfully in many different ways, much as the same character in Shakespeare can successfully sustain many different interpretations. With Beethoven at one extreme we have the beetle-browed seriousness of Gilels or Richter; at the other extreme, the teasing wit and unpredictability of Pletnev or Brendel. What does not seem to work to the musics advantage is that it should sound like Mendelssohn. That said, a few minor slips apart, there was much beautiful pianism in evidence, especially in the slow movement but, in this of all Beethovens piano concertos, one found oneself longing for more grit in the oyster, especially in the first movement, and more laconic humour in the last. If the last few pages of the Finale do not bring a smile to an audiences face or preferably make it laugh out loud then there is something missing. Here it sounded dutiful. The accompaniment was excellent, however, and nobody should be deterred from hearing the remainder of the cycle Perahia is clearly better attuned to the Apollonian aspects of Beethoven which predominate in much of the Emperor, which he plays on 5 December.
With Sawallischs cancellation, the symphony was switched, for no discernible reason, from the Pastoral to the Eroica. This bold move a bit like Nasser Hussain putting the Australians in to bat when he won the toss in the first Test Match backfired, and one cannot help thinking that it might have been wise to stick with the original programme. The Eroica is undoubtedly one of the supreme challenges for an interpreter. London has heard some very great performances over the years from Giulini and, with the Philharmonia from Sanderling and Klemperer and as such, like marriage, is not to be entered into lightly. To hear a merely competent performance leaves one disproportionately dissatisfied. In terms of synchronisation this performance stood up reasonably well Bamert was after all an associate of Szell in Cleveland but where was the fire, the sense of this music breaking the bonds of all that had gone before it, the tensile flexing and contracting of tensions over long spans of music, the sense of danger?
Crucially, the performance lacked that potent mixture of tragedy and patient rejoicing, darkness followed by light, so central to Beethoven; the end of the Funeral March instead of fragmenting breathlessly and hanging in the air simply seemed to come to a stop, whilst the concluding pages of the Finale sounded loud and frenetic rather than joyous and overwhelmingly life-affirming as they must.
The concert opened with the Overture to King Stephen, Beethovens contribution to the opening of German theatre in Budapest music of dry wit which received an excellent spry performance.
- Wolfgang Sawallisch is replaced by Frans Brüggen, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and Sir Charles Mackerras 1, 5 & 8 December respectively, RFH