LSO/Gardiner Maria João Pires – Beethoven

König Stefan, Op.117 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67

Maria João Pires (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 4 February, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Phoptograph: Sheila Rock. ©DeccaThe Overture comes from incidental music Beethoven wrote for Kotzebue’s play “King Stephen” celebrating the first king of a united Hungary, crowned in 1001, and who converted the nation to Christianity. The music is vigorous, untroubled, undemanding and tuneful. It has panache and a swinging lilt to its principal melody. The beginning is arresting: twice a short blazon from the brass demands attention – and twice the strings intersperse with tripping measures of less consequence. The performance, however, was jerky, even though highly accomplished.

This unevenness and discontinuity continued during the explosive introduction to the Third Piano Concerto. When Maria João Pires rolled out her entrance, everything changed – as long as she was playing. This was partly – and splendidly – due to her authority, emanating from a majestic turbulence and ever-pressing forward-flow that was quite amazing in one whose physique is so slight. The other factor is that frequently – especially during the first movement – Sir John Eliot was compelled to modify his strategy in order to perform the task of giving appropriate accompaniment. Thus, at times, the LSO played lightly and buoyantly. Cumulatively, the first movement was so impressive that applause broke out – briefly, thank goodness.

Maria João Pires. Photograph: Christian SteinerThe concerto was really Pires’s occasion. Her mastery gave the performance its distinction. She gave us an encore, a beguiling Chopin Mazurka from Opus 59, and displayed her prowess in switching within minutes from mastery of Beethoven’s idiom to an equally captivating appreciation of Chopin’s musical language.

Introducing Beethoven’s Fifth, Sir John Eliot Gardiner credibly suggested that the most famous four notes in classical music probably derive from the French revolutionary fervour of Cherubini (and a phrase in his “Hymne de Panthéon” in particular) than some lugubrious harbinger of Fate knocking at the door.

Certainly, Sir John Eliot’s performance matched his suggestion. This Fifth was bright, exciting and exultant – and, of course, on the move. There was a sense of the multitude gathering in the first movement, and of it pressing forward in its joyous task during the Andante, very much ‘con moto’. The footfalls of the goblins did not deter and the Allegro finale brought the crowds swelling out into the streets in unstoppable, exultant cavalcade. The revolution had arrived and it was good. The enthusiasm was infectious; the playing was enthusiastic and inspired.

  • The LSO and Sir John Eliot Gardiner continue their three-season long Beethoven symphony cycle on 17 February 2009
  • LSO
  • Barbican

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