György Sándor – 90 Not Out

Symphony No.8
Piano Concerto No.3
Symphony No.7

György Sándor (piano)

London Schools Symphony Orchestra
Peter Ash

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 11 September, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

How heart-warming and positive it was to see and hear György Sándor at this concert. Even at the best of times such creative longevity would have been poignant; a year on from, surely, the ultimate in terrorism, this was special, a signal of continuance made more precious by Sándor playing with an orchestra of which even the oldest member would have been more than 70 years his junior.

The programme note unhelpfully informed that Sándor is 90 “this month” so whether he had actually reached his great age on this day I know not. Irrespective, he played with such vitality that the years dropped away. A sense of rightness and authority suggested this was how Sándor premiered Bartók’s final piano concerto in 1946 (the concluding bars having been completed by the composer’s friend Tibór Sérly). Any suggestion that the moderately-paced ’Allegro vivace’ finale was a concession to age is refuted by Sándor’s 1959 recording with Michael Gielen (VOX CDX2 5506) – the same tempo, itself the division of the preceding movements; in any case the virile opening ’Allegro’ (quicker than I’ve ever heard it) should have left no one in any doubt that Sándor’s was not a nostalgic return but had the stamp of an interpreter who really knows how this music goes.

The standing ovation to acclaim Sándor owed something to his status; I hope too that it was appreciation of his illuminating and clear-sighted rendition, which went straight to the heart and mind of the composer. Sándor’s Bach encore, given as an encapsulation of life and faith, was enough for the evening; I wanted to hear nothing more. With hindsight, Sándor’s appearance should have formed the second half.

I’m sure though that replete senses did not affect my feelings toward the disappointing Sibelius. Although Ash had the measure of Sibelius’s concentrated structure, from the perfunctory opening bars to the cool apotheosis this was a flat-terrain traversal lacking awe and grandeur, the pivotal trombone chorale kept under wraps, with no sense of arrival come the end. The achievement here was the deft and sonorous results that the players produced, committed and hard-working, as throughout the evening.

American Peter Ash, the LSSO’s new Artistic Director, certainly seems the right man to lead the orchestra to a bright future in terms of the youngsters’ enthusiasm and preparation. The Beethoven was muscular and energetic, a worked-at and full-toned account that made no compromise – the fleet ’Finale’ for example – and was historically-aware with the outer sections of the ’Minuet’ (more Tempo di Scherzo here) played through twice again come the da capo. Understandable accidents, timbral roughness and polytonal ensemble aside, this was an invigorating and confident performance. The purer altitude of Sibelius’s masterpiece was negotiated with considerable expertise and the vibrant, alert playing in the Bartók was impressive.

A celebration of life and music, this concert combined living history with those on their first musical adventures. Such convergence proved a memorable meeting point to reflect and take strength.

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