Le nozze di Figaro – Overture
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
Maria João Pires (piano)
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 3 October, 2013
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
In a year that has highlighted the role of women in classical music, London has been blessed with four exceptional Beethoven piano concerto performances with a feminine touch. Following Imogen Cooper’s sparkling partnership in No.1 with Iván Fischer and his Budapest Festival Orchestra and, then, shifting the focus west to the Royal Albert Hall and the Proms came Mitsuko Uchida’s rapt No.4 with Mariss Jansons and his Bavarians. Now Maria João Pires has given us the two intervening concertos. With long-standing partner Bernard Haitink at the Royal Festival Hall two days ago it was No.2, and here, still with Orchestra Mozart (making it British debut in this pair of concerts) but under its Principal Guest Conductor, she gave a scintillating performance of No.3.
This Queen Elizabeth Hall/Shell Classic International concert by Orchestra Mozart had the advantage over its Royal Festival Hall partner in that the programme remained as originally published (with none of the cast and programme changes that had bedevilled the first). Thankfully so for we got a piece by the composer from whom the orchestra founded in Bologna takes its name: Mozart. 29-year-old Venezuelan Diego Matheuz (an El Sistema protégé) offered a glimpse of mentor Claudio Abbado with a very similar technique. The quality of Orchestra Mozart – as evidenced on two nights ago – was immediate from the very opening runs of the Figaro Overture, secure in their even flow and with all the verve and pep you could wish for.
However, instead of Figaro measuring up his new living quarters, close to the conniving Count, here we had a stage change with the violinists vacating their seats briefly for the Yamaha piano to be manoeuvred into place. Pires makes it look so easy, but has both the power and finesse to carry it off, with no histrionics, just effortless panache. Her ability to turn the mood in an instant, to find nuance in a delicate (or cheeky) change of dynamic was here on even better display than in the Royal Festival Hall, perhaps because of the QEH’s intimacy. Towards the end of the dark slow movement she rested her left hand on the top of the piano as if communing directly with her instrument as her right-hand traced the melody, and shortly thereafter set a jubilant challenge to her partners with her spirited assumption of the finale’s opening theme. Magical!
After the interval Matheuz, again without the score, gave us the ‘Eroica’. We’d had another young man’s ‘Eroica’ at the Proms: Robin Ticciati’s impeccably and beautifully played but slightly vacuous Scottish Chamber Orchestra performance. Matheuz was more purposeful and convincing; thrilling even, with an icy edge (almost imperceptible at the start) to the second-movement ‘Funeral March’, with so little vibrato. Perhaps there’s more emotional depths to uncover, but the sound was full (the four double basses giving requisite heft to the bass line) and the music-making generous. The musicians seemed to enjoy it too – eye contact between them heightened the collaborative effect – and they were certainly hunting out an encore, even though Matheuz eventually led them off leaving the audience wanting more.