Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat, K595
Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.47
Maria João Pires (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 5 January, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Murray Perahia having cancelled, Maria João Pires stepped in and gave us, as advertised, Mozart’s final piano concerto. Despite its undying popularity this is an elusive work, one not easy to bring off in performance. Listening to this beautifully understated reading, the phrase “the gift to be simple” sprang immediately to mind. One lapse from the pianist aside, Pires and Haitink really got to the heart of the matter, their success due significantly to the choice of tempos – swift yet profound in the Larghetto and laid-back but just fast enough in the outer movements, which maintained momentum and avoided triteness. Like all really good Mozart interpreters, Pires found plenty of light and shade, even in the most innocent of phrases, instinctively sensing when to occupy centre-stage and when to accompany. The cadenzas, the usual ones, thankfully, were a model of stylish, non-egocentric rendition. Particularly satisfying throughout was the level of integration between soloist and orchestra, the sense of a journey shared.
The Shostakovich (“A Soviet artist’s response to just criticism”, said the composer, as a sop to the authorities) was even more distinguished. I first heard the Fifth Symphony in 1960 in a quite stunning performance in Edinburgh with the Leningrad Philharmonic under Mravinsky (who gave the symphony’s premiere in 1937). Under Haitink the LSO’s playing had little to fear from that comparison, the solo winds and heavy brass, in particular, respectively producing a potent combination of extreme sensitivity and extreme power.
This is music which Haitink clearly feels in his bones and, casting off any of those inhibitions which have occasionally afflicted him in the past, this was unaffectedly emotional music-making. The first movement’s upward curve was delivered with a degree of structural subtlety that eludes most other conductors, its intensity progressively ratcheted up and continually expanding right until the final moment of cataclysm. The scherzo had a compact visceral punch that was the aural equivalent of being on the receiving end of a left hook, and the heart of the performance was the Largo – with some truly fabulous flute solos and an unexaggerated climax of extreme intensity from the strings. The finale, taken attacca and with real ferocity, powered to a quite remarkable peroration and with none of those grating stop-go gear-changes which can afflict other performances, the LSO producing massive reserves of string sound at the close.