Euryanthe Euryanthe Schumann
Piano Concerto in A minor Mussorgsky orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition
Radu Lupu (piano)
Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester
Barbican Great Performers
Wednesday, April 11, 2001 Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Founded in 1986 by Claudio Abbado, who remains as music director, the GMJO, despite its Austro-German basis, is "open to all musicians under the age of 26 from every country in Europe". This London stop on its seven-concert tour with Mariss Jansons (Pictures common to each, Brahms 4 preceding it five times) was only one of two featuring Radu Lupus Schumann concerto.
This was the highlight of a concert that was a glorious showcase for some outstanding young musicians. Particularly striking is the GMJOs richness and depth of string sound not just because of seventy players, but due to the significant number of musicians from eastern Europe, who bring a burnished, Slavic intensity.
Jansons led a spirited account of Webers overture, sonorous when required, keenly detailed throughout and ethereal in the ghost music; Jansons not as indulgent as he can be with dynamic tinkering and over-emphasis. I was less taken with Pictures. The orchestra was superb, but Jansonss way with the music itself was rather relentless - mezzo-forte or louder; more light and shade, some really quite playing was needed to countenance Jansonss over-lit rendition. A fabulous showcase for the orchestra though and one the musicians relished. A shame though that Jansons added some percussion to several of the movements. Its use was gratuitous and at-odds with Ravels considered scoring.
That the orchestra and Jansons had formed a close and admiring rapport was obvious. They did his bidding with total commitment and considerable expertise but, for encores, Sibeliuss Valse Triste was mannered and sugary, and Death of Tybalt (from Prokofievs Romeo and Juliet) proved resistible despite (or because of) the theatrics on offer.
Schumann found Lupu at his most poetic, sensitive and refined. Jansons matched him. Indeed, it was a question of who could play the quietest, who could be the most delicate. This was chamber music. Rarely has so much been heard of Schumanns orchestra Lupu barely brushing the keys at times to accommodate an always lightly poised orchestra; dialogue between piano and wind openly shared.
Lupus improvisatory approach made for one of the freshest and most discriminating performances I can recall; one that has spoilt Schumanns concerto for other soloists I cant immediately think of another pianist who can play with such inwardness and subtlety, but with no loss (when required) of virility or romantic bloom, than Lupu did at this concert. I doff my hat to Jansons and the orchestra for matching him all the way in this gentle, reflective, variegated, deeply expressive and utterly compelling performance.