Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.19
Romance in F, Op.50
Symphony No.5 in B flat, D485
John Lill (piano)
Magdalena Filipczak (violin)
Orchestra of St John’s
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 4 February, 2015
Venue: St John’s, Smith Square, London
It was the night of the Johns. St John’s (Smith Square) hosted this concert by the Orchestra of St John’s with its founder/conductor John Lubbock. One of the guest soloists was John Lill and the evening opened with Red Leaves by John McCabe, written in 1991 for the Istanbul Festival. Scored for strings with pairs of oboes and horns, this persuasive 10-minute gem’s stimulation owes to New England, the music autumnal in both inspiration and feel. McCabe’s craftsmanship is typically impeccable. A sense of passing informs the opening oboe solo. The strings suggest a mystical landscape (Stonehenge came to my mind) and the interweaving horn parts always engage the ear. Indeed Red Leaves is full of incident and expression, touching the heart and freeing the imagination in this sensitive and skilled reading.
John Lill and Beethoven are synonymous; he has recorded the Piano Concertos twice and there is a handsome set of the 32 Piano Sonatas. As Lill showed during the recent Cadogan Hall cycle of the Sonatas (review-link below to the final recital, and from there to the rest) he remains a re-evaluating master of this repertoire. To open the B flat Concerto, John Lubbock took a sprightly but not rushed view of the introduction, winds the equal of strings, although some of the violin-playing was edgy and uncertain, and if Lill entered at a faster tempo, it was easy to be swept into a zesty performance of characteristic focus and experience but without the latter eschewing fresh insights. Lill’s flurry and modulation were a joy and the (added later) first-movement cadenza was given a commanding outing. In what otherwise might be described as Beethoven’s lightest and most-elegant Piano Concerto, there is much gravity to be found in the Adagio, here made profound and, by the close, ethereal; and the finale was ebullient, Lill relishing the notes and finding time for witty (teasing) changes of volume and touch.
Beethoven’s harmonious F-major Romance opened the second half, with Magdalena Filipczak. She played with poise and eloquent expression, warmly accompanied, Lubbock sculpting the music, but her tone was variable, at times reminding of Yehudi Menuhin, both in timbre (not wholly a compliment) and compassion (a definite plus). The concert closed with Schubert’s delightful Fifth Symphony, fleet, fizzing and robust in the outer movements (the exposition repeat wisely omitted in the finale). The Minuet disguised as a Scherzo was also nifty, really as fast as it can go, yet Lubbock made a deft turn into the Trio, which he made malleable. If there were times when a greater number of strings would have been advantageous, the playing of OSJ was consistently disciplined and responsive. The slow movement stole the show, lovingly and spaciously turned, and made raptly expressive through much light and shade.