Overture Leonora No.2, Op.72
Symphony No.1 in F minor, Op.10
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
Christoph von Dohnányi
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 11 April, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Maybe the ‘traditional’ overture-concerto-symphony order would have been preferable; the contrasts of Beethoven in heroic and poetic mood would have been better made. As it was Leonore No.2 (a rare outing) promised much in the (daringly) slow introduction and suspenseful pianissimos that reminded of the music’s operatic association (“Fidelio”). Christoph von Dohnányi led a honed, lucid and vividly detailed account, with virtually perfect blend and balance between the orchestra sections, Dohnányi’s control of dynamics masterly, the off-stage trumpet convincingly brought-off in terms of perspective and notes played; had the coda been less dogged and more glorious in its triumph, this would have been altogether special.
A similar inconsistency informed Shostakovich’s debut symphony. Dohnányi somewhat drove through it, seemingly determined to integrate the episodes. This worked well-enough in the first two movements, the many solo spots seized upon with glee and accuracy and Shostakovich’s filigree scoring revealed with expert clarity. Fortissimos though were more generalised and rather noisy, nowhere more so than in the coruscating bars concluding the symphony in which the brass was far too loud (and not just for this hall) and which was a surprising misjudgement. A little more time in the Lento would have allowed Gordon Hunt even more eloquence in the oboe solos, and there were times throughout when the symphony’s obliqueness and pathos didn’t fully register: such as, respectively, the scherzo’s ‘silent movie’ piano solo, which went for virtually nothing, and what can be a heart-touching ‘moment’ for the strings early into the finale just came and went. However, Alistair Mackie’s trumpet solo in the Largo, the instrument muted, was miraculous in its expressive quietude.
The concerto received a rendition that also didn’t quite add up. Lyrical, lucid and understated, there was much to admire in Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s stylish regard for this most gracious of piano concertos; yet such a taciturn approach also undermined its more powerful and profound aspects. Beethoven’s ‘other’ (lesser-played) first movement cadenza, the ruminative one, was well-chosen in context, but the ‘contesting’ slow movement – the pianist quelling the massed strings (Orpheus and the Furies, as Liszt perceived the movement) – went for very little. Dohnányi chose an ‘old-fashioned’ broad tempo but the mood was sulky rather than confrontational and Aimard’s response was at best ‘there, there’. The finale, like the first movement had been, was measured and articulate; it was also attractively playful, and earlier hallmarks (Aimard ‘first among equals’ with Dohnányi generously accommodating him) remained in place. Such gallantry between soloist and conductor, the Philharmonia as a nimble go-between, was musically admirable … but there’s more to this great work. The subtlety, thoughtfulness and unity of this performance was there to be heard – and appreciated – but the piece seemed liked a blueprint, too many passages ‘in parentheses’.
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