Munich KlangVerwaltung Orchestra/Heinrich Schiff John Lill

Coriolan Overture
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466
Symphony No.9 in C, D944 (Great)

John Lill (piano)

Munich KlangVerwaltung Orchestra
Heinrich Schiff

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: 17 November, 2008
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Heinrich Schiff. Photograph: Alexander BastaWith the indisposition its Music Director, Enoch zu Guttenberg, and the substitution of Heinrich Schiff (with a slight change of programme) as his replacement, this appearance in London may not be the fairest way by which to judge the quality of the rather oddly-named KlangVerwaltung Orchestra of Munich, or perhaps those responsible for the programme book, which contained a number of hair-raising misprints.

Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll was originally billed to open the concert but in the event we had an excellently-structured and generally very well played Coriolan Overture. If some may have felt that Schiff’s basic tempo was a shade fast, the powerful drama which is found throughout the work never failed. The performance clearly demonstrated that the Orchestra is, in essence, a fine one, and we were fortunate to hear it play so well, and with such evident corporate and individual musicianship.

John LillJohn Lill was fortunate also for conductor and orchestra providing a splendid partnership for his account of Mozart’s D minor Piano Concerto, which was exceptional in every regard. In short, this was a performance of very great distinction by this incomparable artist; a reading that was wholly appreciated by the Orchestra itself. Lill’s phrasing, dynamics and tonal graduations, and his integration of the cadenzas, were beyond praise; but the decision for the strings to play without vibrato tended to produce occasional stylistic clashes of timbre against a modern Steinway instrument, on which Lill showed a consistently wondrous sense of Mozartean characterisation.

Perhaps, in the circumstances, Schubert’s ‘Great’ C major Symphony tended to suffer, but not by much. This was a big-boned, big-gestured account, but the tempos could have been more subtly integrated in the first movement, such as makes all the difference in this composer’s solo piano and chamber-music, although the changes of gear were well managed overall.

This was a powerful and compelling reading in the main, but a greater degree of refinement was missing in stretches of the finale, where Schiff appeared to let the orchestra play by itself on auto-pilot, rather than taking control with a sure sense of direction and ultimate destination. The playing, as such, was at all times very good indeed. It is always fascinating to hear a very fine musician in a different musical role; on this showing, Beethoven and Mozart seemed to suit the conductor (better known as a cellist, of course) more than Schubert.

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