Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Denis Matsuev (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 24 October, 2012
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
This was the second of two Brahms programs at Lincoln Center by the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev. The evening began auspiciously with an orchestral introduction to the D minor Piano Concerto that was conceived and played with painstaking care. Denis Matsuev brought considerable technical virtuosity to the first movement, marked Maestoso. Although his playing had power to spare, he gave the illusion of still greater power by releasing from the keyboard with gestures even more ostentatious than those made when attacking it. However, in lyrical passages, the piano did not really sing out, even when the music is marked dolce – although he was better in this regard later in the movement. Throughout the Adagio, the LSO’s woodwind section was outstanding, bassoons and horn setting a contemplative mood and flutes, oboe and bassoons bringing the movement to a gentle close. The introspective atmosphere was sustained by Matsuev right through to the culminating trill-laden cadenza, but the melodic lines were never as deeply expressive as one would have hoped. It was in the finale that Matsuev was at his best, bringing color and humor to Brahms’s succession of variations on the lively opening theme. There were glorious touches from the trumpets, intensity from the strings in the fugato passages, and playful interludes by winds and horn. Matsuev ended the concerto with a rousing coda, and then offered Rachmaninov’s A minor Etude-tableau (Opus 39/2) as an encore.
After intermission, Gergiev and the LSO gave an engaging performance of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony. The sighing, falling and rising opening motif was delicately offset by sinuous wind figures, and horns and cellos were resonant over syncopated pizzicato violins. Trumpets and timpani played their role well without overpowering the rest of the orchestra. The Andante was played with delicacy, the highlights being the lovely melody on cellos to a bassoon accompaniment, as well as fine flute and clarinet solos. Gergiev attacked the scherzo with full force, but the strings were as light as air and the piccolo and triangle topped them off with delightful sparkle. The finale was performed as marked – energetic and passionate. The added heft of three trombones was felt right at the start; and among the movement’s thirty variations on the chaconne theme, an extended flute solo, a plaintive one for clarinet, and a variation for brass stood out. The evening ended with another encore, a rousing performance of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.1.