London Philharmonic/Pinnock Maria João Pires [The Black Gondola … Scottish Symphony]

Liszt, orch. John Adams
The Black Gondola [La lugubre gondola II]
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish)

Maria João Pires (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Trevor Pinnock

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 21 October, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Trevor Pinnock. Photograph: Clive BardaA familiar figure at the harpsichord or enthusiastically directing musicians on their ‘authentic’ instruments, Trevor Pinnock may not be so associated with a ‘modern’ symphony orchestra, but then it is all-too-easy to typecast people; note, then, that Pinnock’s record collection includes Count Basie LPs and the music of Pierre Boulez.

Pinnock started this concert with a hybrid; John Adams’s orchestration of Liszt’s for-piano La lugubre gondola (the second such piece, now “black” in its re-titling), recognisably Lisztian in Adams’s effective scoring (for a small orchestra of classical proportions, without trumpets and trombones, but with harp and bass clarinet) suggesting a Faustian despair and – with Adams’s hindsight – a glance to Rachmaninov (The Isle of the Dead) and Mahler (Tenth Symphony). This fine performance (including excellent horn solos from John Ryan) compelled the air, not least with the exquisite passage for four solo cellos.

Maria João Pires. Photograph: Christian SteinerTrevor Pinnock and Maria João Pires seemed to have formed a very meaningful and productive personal and musical rapport; on the evidence of this account of Beethoven’s C minor Piano Concerto it is good news indeed that they are recording all five with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon.

Responding to a lean, yet muscular accompaniment, Pires was typically subtle, crisp, sensitive, unexaggerated and accommodating, her most demonstrative playing reserved for the first-movement cadenza. With a time-taken and raptly expressed slow movement and frisky finale (impish wit employed in the coda), this was a new-minted account driven by sheer musicianship and palpable camaraderie, the LPO equal partners, not least in woodwind solos, which shone through meaningfully.

It’s not often that a piano stool is brought on after a performance, but without it Pinnock would had to have stood for a four-hands novelty straight from a Salzburg tavern, some knockabout fun from one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that confirmed Pinnock and Pires as quite a double-act!

Pinnock’s early-music credentials surprisingly didn’t extend him to requiring antiphonal violins (and he was quite happy with vibrato being used). His spacious conducting of the ‘Scottish’ Symphony’s slow introduction stressed the music’s illustrative qualities, the main allegro (exposition repeat observed) being lithe and bracing, if malleable. With the following movements perfectly ‘attached’ – an exuberant scherzo with a real ‘snap’, a lovingly shaped, rather sombre Adagio, and an energised, agitated ‘warring’ finale – this was a refreshing, incident-packed account, ending joyously, to which the LPO contributed elegant, pointed and committed playing.

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