Philharmonia Orchestra/Dohnányi Maria João Pires [Beethoven, Mozart & Brahms]

Egmont, Op.84 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat, K595
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73

Maria João Pires (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnányi

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 30 June, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Maria João Pires. Photograph: Christian SteinerThis final concert of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s 2008-09 London subscription season began with a slightly underplayed account of the Overture to “Egmont”, controlled and cultured certainly, of dignity and heroism, but not blazing or dramatic enough.

Beethoven’s silences would no doubt have been more meaningful had some in the audience not coughed into them. The Mozart was sabotaged, too, the performance bedevilled by a persistent high-pitched whistle that was presumably somebody’s hearing-aid, this irritation beginning early enough for the musicians to stop (members of the orchestra could clearly hear the intrusion) and see if the problem could be solved. They carried on to offer an elegant and crisp account, Maria João Pires typically sensitive if not always searching enough (the outer-movement cadenzas brought greater probing). There was a momentary hiatus midway through the first movement that visibly threw the pianist; elsewhere poise, shape and clarity were the orders of the day, sometimes too agreeable, sometimes ravishing, and, laudably throughout, treating this music as living and breathing rather than giving a ‘with hindsight’ interpretation influenced by this being Mozart’s final piano concerto.

Christoph von DohnányiThe glory of the concert was Brahms’s Second Symphony – just as it was two years ago in this then-newly-refurbished hall! That performance from 2007 is happily captured on a Signum Classics release (with Brahms 4, SIGCD132) or as a Philharmonia Orchestra download, yet hopefully the Philharmonia will not forget that Dohnányi (now its Honorary Conductor for Life) is a very sympathetic conductor of challenging contemporary repertoire (as pieces by Adès, Birtwistle and Henze, among others, have demonstrated during his tenure as Principal Conductor).

Wonderful piece, Brahms 2, and Dohnányi is an equally wonderful interpreter of it, as this performance again displayed; the first movement expansive but never torpid (the repeat of the long exposition made indivisible), the slow movement itself kept on the move to avoid sameness, the following intermezzo elegant and energetically contrasted, and the finale resolute without missing the finer points. Throughout this beautifully played performance (with some outstanding solo work), Dohnányi’s attention to detail and dynamics, fine balance, and with strength and power offset by depth of feeling and lyrical beauty, and not to forget a long line that never lost its way, made for a performance that was absorbing and thrillingly cumulative.

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