Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto – Pierre-Laurent Aimard at Royal Academy of Music

Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)

Royal Academy of Music Concert Orchestra
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 7 October, 2011
Venue: Duke's Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London

Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Photograph: Graham TurnerPierre-Laurent Aimard had recently been immersed in the music of Pierre Boulez, curating the Southbank Centre’s Exquisite Labyrinth weekend. That celebration of Boulez’s music included a survey of his complete solo piano music, shared between Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich, and also included performances of some of Boulez’s scores by students of the Royal Academy of Music. A week later, this RAM lunchtime concert brought the two together in wildly different repertoire: Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto.

Aimard played with his back to the audience; his lid-less Steinway positioned for him to see the orchestra. His touch was as delicate and precise as it had been in Boulez, but the interaction of the piano and acoustic made for a booming sound that often rivalled the orchestra for volume. Occasionally, he scaled the sound right back – such as in the timpani-accompanied solo towards the end of the finale – but at other times the hall did it’s best to amplify his quiet playing beyond what was ideal. In the opening Allegro, Aimard’s direction pushed the music forward vigorously, but only in a way that suited the scale of the reasonably small orchestra and its touch of period purity.

The Adagio was a little wayward, Aimard emphasising touch at the expense of line, rendering the meandering piano part as a series of notes rather than an unfolding of long phrases. One wonders if the ‘Emperor’ Concerto is suited to direction from the keyboard; the orchestra managed well when Aimard’s attention was taken by his own playing and as there are so many moments of difficult coordination that occur while the pianist is occupied that having a pianist-conductor seems a little pointless. The players having to split their attentions between the leader and the conductor caused problems at the outset of the finale. Certainly ensemble would have been a little tighter with a conductor, but these young players will have benefited from the experience of listening to and watching each other so intently, and in a lengthy rehearsal period gleaned the insights of a pianist with decades of experience in this great work.

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