London Mozart Players/Kovacevich – Beethoven (2)

Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Egmont, Op.84 – Overture
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67

London Mozart Players
Stephen Kovacevich (piano)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 26 April, 2007
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Listening to Stephen Kovacevich play Beethoven is like receiving a guided tour of somebody’s home-town from a long-term resident. Even more so than in the first concert of this series (when he played Concerto No.2), Kovacevich was perfectly at ease, his authority and naturalness a delight to hear, the result uplifting.

Again, as in the first concert, Kovacevich changed the concert’s order to begin with the concerto, giving himself one of the most daunting openings in the repertoire in the soloist’s exposed solo. It did, indeed, take him the opening phrase and a few minutes more to settle down, but soon, we heard his distinctive brand of strength and sweetness.

Like many of the great Beethovenians of the past – one thinks of Wilhelm Kempff in particular – Kovacevich plays Beethoven very simply, without indulgence or affectation, lyrical, but always within the confines of structure and classicism. The slow movement was especially sensitively divided between soloist and orchestra.

One puzzling thing – in the programme note, Kovacevich himself wrote that the right way to interpret the first movement’s Allegro moderato tempo indication might be to play the whole thing unusually slowly. “That is what we will try tonight”, he wrote. But that wasn’t the case. If anything, the tempo was rapid and Kovacevich occasionally rushed.

As a conductor, Kovacevich is easily able to import his virtues as a pianist. The overture was rousing, and exciting without being pompous or hectoring. The symphony, likewise, was heroic without excess; Kovacevich was able to give both concerto and symphony a sense of grandeur, even with chamber-orchestra forces; he took a notably ‘bigger’ approach than for the earlier symphonies in the first concert. Nevertheless, for example in the reprise of the scherzo in the finale, Kovacevich was able to coax an intimate gentleness from the London Mozart Players.

The LMP has tremendous energy, the winds and brass especially fine; the orchestra’s long-standing relationship with Kovacevich was very evident in the closeness with which the musicians followed his direction. This concert was much better attended than the first in the series, though still far from a full house. I remain to be convinced that the Cadogan Hall acoustic suits piano music – even with Kovacevich’s generally clean fingerwork – as much as it does orchestral music, or that the piano itself is among the very best instruments. But, overall, this concert was a triumphant success, exactly the sort of expression of the human spirit’s powers that Beethoven tried to convey in composition.

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