John Lill and the LPO

Prelude a l’Apres-midi d’un faune
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor
Symphony No.2 in D

John Lill (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Thomas Dausgaard

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 15 December, 2001
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Thomas Dausgaard, here replacing Yuri Temirkanov, conducted Sibelius 2 at this year’s Proms, which I missed. There was much to impress in this LPO concert as Dausgaard brought his batonless, expressive body to bear on a volatile but, at times, ill-considered reading. The worst casualty was the finale’s ’big tune’ – pushed along too much, then more so, losing poise and detail. In an (understandable) attempt to reduce pomposity, Dausgaard got the better of himself. He rallied for the triumphant coda, but the brass was too loud and the horns’ uneven tonal production proved distracting; elsewhere in the finale there was much that was gloriously untrammelled.

Dausgaard’s opening movement flowed – emulating Sibelius’s close interpreter Robert Kajanus (as recorded in the ’thirties) – Sibelius’s nationalistic Finnish fervency to the fore (Dausgaard is Danish!). The ’Tempo Andante, ma rubato’ second movement, its stealth, reflection and defiance, were well differentiated but at some cost to unity.

As well as Dausgaard’s Prom performance, I also missed Pletnev’s Philharmonia Sibelius 2, but caught outstanding accounts from Colin Davis and Leonard Slatkin; unlike them, Dausgaard’s lack of cohesion was literally the weakest link.

Dausgaard’s Faune didn’t imitate the improvisatory opening flute solo, being all-too controlled if flowing; discreet rather than explicitly erotic, but with an edge, this was a spring morning rather than a hazy summer afternoon, sparkling mineral water replacing wine as the faun’s tipple.

Dausgaard’s his own man though; he has plenty of interesting ideas and the presence to bring them off. He’s also an attentive accompanist as his vivid, sensitive and tactile response to John Lill’s integrity demonstrated in the greatest, if not most popular, of Prokofiev’s piano concertos. Lill isn’t the regular visitor to London he once was; one wonders why after this superb showing.

Lill’s a musician’s musician, there’s no excess; rather, his focus is entirely on the music. This paid striking dividends in Prokofiev’s grand and audacious concerto – it seemed more so for Lill’s clarity of vision. The huge first movement cadenza emerged as a triumph of architecture. The opening pages had been of brooding atmosphere, romance (even!). The second movement is a daredevil scherzo, then comes an ’Intermezzo’ informed by macabre galumphing and introspection. Lill brought finite simplicity to introduce the finale’s folksong, the concerto’s gathering exuberance finely judged. I don’t think I’ve heard this great piece more convincingly realised; it emerged as an even greater work thanks to Lill’s musicianship and Dausgaard’s painstaking conducting.

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