Barbican Great Performers

Euryanthe – Euryanthe
Piano Concerto in A minor
Mussorgsky orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition

Radu Lupu (piano)

Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester
Mariss Jansons

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 11 April, 2001
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

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 Lupu’s Schumann concerto.

This was the highlight of a concert that was a glorious showcase for some outstanding young musicians. Particularly striking is the GMJO’s 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 Weber’s 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 Jansons’s way with the music itself was rather relentless – mezzo-forte or louder; more light and shade, some really quite playing was needed to countenance Jansons’s 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 Ravel’s 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, Sibelius’s Valse Triste was mannered and sugary, and ‘Death of Tybalt’ (from Prokofiev’s 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 Schumann’s orchestra – Lupu barely brushing the keys at times to accommodate an always lightly poised orchestra; dialogue between piano and wind openly shared.

Lupu’s improvisatory approach made for one of the freshest and most discriminating performances I can recall; one that has spoilt Schumann’s concerto for other soloists – I can’t 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.

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