Britten Sinfonia Paul Lewis [Mozart & Richard Strauss]

Capriccio – Prelude
Piano Concerto No.12 in A, K414
Serenade in E flat, Op.7
Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat, K595

Paul Lewis (piano/director)

Britten Sinfonia
Jacqueline Shave (director/leader)

Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: 18 May, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

The coupling of Richard Strauss and Mozart is a splendid one. Strauss admired the older Master, and this concert showed how the two complement each other perfectly. The format of the concert was to have a work by Strauss begin each half, one scored for strings, the other for winds, each followed by a Mozart piano concerto.

The Prelude to “Capriccio” is scored for string sextet. The performance was delicate and touching, but doubts arose as to Jacqueline Shave’s bow control and warmth of tone. The ‘little’ A major Piano Concerto is a delightfully fresh piece that here received an affectionate performance. The orchestral exposition had its fair share of ragged corners, though, placing into relief the fact that Paul Lewis was in a different league. The divide seemed accentuated by the fact that there was precious little, if any, eye contact between soloist and orchestra. Lewis’s gracious way with the gorgeous Andante was a delight, which could not be said for the orchestral contribution, the Britten Sinfonia lacking the subtlety this music demands, and balance needed work. The gallant finale went some way to rescue things.

The concert’s second half eclipsed that of the first. Strauss’s early, single-movement Serenade dates from 1881. It is superbly sculpted and deserves far more outings than it gets. The winds and horns of Britten Sinfonia delivered a wonderfully warm and rounded sound with excellent balance. Strauss’s lyric outpouring, given depth by the underpinning of a contrabassoon, was heart-warmingly magnificent, with a special mention to the horns, particularly Stephen Bell.

Paul Lewis. Photograph: Jack LiebeckLewis studied with Alfred Brendel. Maybe he felt a little in the shadow of his mentor in Mozart’s final piano concerto (Brendel’s recording with Marriner conducting is glorious). Britten Sinfonia’s winds showed their superiority over the strings at the opening, ensemble really tight against a less-sure string section. Lewis was again the star, though, his attack clean, everything considered. The cadenza to the first movement was superbly shaped. The Larghetto was not too indulgent), and here at last there was good dialogue between piano and orchestra, this time with eye contact; the finale contained some lovely playing from Lewis and, again, a nicely judged cadenza.

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