Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.19
Symphony No.9 in D minor [Nowak edition]
Maria Jo„o Pires (piano)
London Symohony Orchestra
Barbican Hall, London
Sunday, February 17, 2013
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The Britten-Mozart-Beethoven programme heard a few days ago had one outing; this Beethoven-Bruckner one is repeated in a few days' time: go to it! At least the microphones were out (presumably for LSO Live) to preserve what was a revelatory account of the Beethoven, and for the monumental collective-worship that was experienced for Brucknerís final, unfinished symphony. The LSO, Bernard Haitink and Maria Jo„o Pires then jet off to South Korea and Japan.
Itís fair to say that Beethovenís Second (performed and likely written before the First, but published later) is regarded as the poor-relation of his numbered quintet of piano concertos; its looking-back (to Mozart and Haydn) at odds with the revolutionary zeal often associated with this composer. This account, under Haitinkís meticulous direction, blew away whatever cobwebs have encased it for years. The victory, though, was Piresís: the music flowed in understated and seamless fashion, the first movement sweeping along. The outsized cadenza displayed Beethovenís defiance, and was here hearty and with brio. The finale propelled and fizzed, like vintage champagne, its flavours encased in layers of finesse. But it was in the slow movement where time stood still: a concentrated outpouring of what appear to be simple gestures, but are sheer genius, the listener ensnared by Piresís playing, silences compelling as much as the notes.
In the Bruckner, those opening tremolos obliged immediately, heralding a performance of sweep, conviction and humanity in the face of adversity. Haitinkís spacious approach (the opening movement clocked-in at 28 minutes) was totally convincing, maintaining clarity-through-the-swells while the sonic climaxes revealed Brucknerís music as a marble edifice. The movementís many sudden dynamic changes sounded utterly natural. The scherzoís pounding rhythms were dispatched with bite and weight, then soothed by the sprightly trio. Although not Brucknerís intended conclusion, the third-movement Adagio brought palpable fulfilment. In places it was terrifying Ė to stare at the face of God invokes His damnation and instils fear Ė the climaxes awesome with rasping brass and timpani rolls absolutely spot-on. Before the biggest climax of all, there is the most serene music, which was pure heaven here, a shaft of light coming down from on high. Brass chorales were burnished and warm, Wagner tubas especially so.
Bernard Haitinkís view is that the unfinished version is as complete as we should hear it (there are numerous completions of the finale). This was a far-reaching symphonic journey and a special occasion.