Serenade No.2 in A, Op.16
Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
Piano Concerto No.23 in A, K488
Paul Lewis (piano)
Sir Charles Mackerras
Reviewed by: Erwin Hösi
Reviewed: 22 March, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
Maybe, as Elgar pointed out, it is because all the movements of Brahms’s Third end quietly that it is considered his least spectacular symphony. Still, it is pure Brahms, considered to be his ‘Eroica’ at its first performance and provoking upheavals among members of the Wagner-Bruckner ecclesia militans – two reasons for Sir Charles Mackerras to break up the chronological sequence of symphonies within this cycle.
The concert opened with the Second Serenade, a light and even cheerful early work, still in the tradition of the 18th-century although bearing sombre undercurrents. With most of the musical narration taking place in the woodwinds, the strings, without violins, provided a smooth and agile counterpart. Among the wind instruments, it was the horns with their vivid dynamics and control of melodic lines that stood out as the most eloquent. Throughout this charming work, Sir Charles only moderately used the freedom for rubato, which he claims as the performer’s right in his introductory essay to the series.
Paul Lewis’s rendering of Mozart took some getting used to, not least his constant use of the sustaining pedal. There was a slightly blurred and inconsistent quality to some of the runs and ornaments that overshadowed an otherwise lithe and sensitive performance.
Brahms 3 was presented with reliability, violins placed antiphonally, the cellos neighbouring the first violins. Each movement was celebrated as an individual piece of art, the occurrences of motifs and themes duly highlighted, while not neglecting the sensual aspects of the work. The Poco Allegretto third movement, with its cantabile melodies and lyrical flow, showed every element at its most convincing and compelling. One criticism: although the orchestra generally reacted with precision to Mackerras’s conducting, some of the chords were realised almost as arpeggios, most regrettably those ending the second and final movements. In all other respects this performance left the impression that this Brahms Symphony had sounded exactly as it should.
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