Pollini, LPO/Masur – 10 December

Simple Symphony, Op.4
Symphony No.1 in D, Op.25 (Classical)
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)

Maurizio Pollini (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Kurt Masur

Reviewed by: Neil Evans

Reviewed: 10 December, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Kurt Masur conducting a ’frolicsome finale’ – that would be an achievement. But that is exactly what this hallowed interpreter of the seriously angst-ridden romantic repertoire did with aplomb in this concert with the LPO. Showing considerable wit and lightness of touch, Masur brought chamber-music delicacy to Britten’s early Simple Symphony, a piece which looks forward to the string-orchestra virtuosity of the Frank Bridge Variations and back six years to the haunting melancholy of the Four French Songs written at the age of 14.

As a Britten interpreter Masur is perhaps most acclaimed for his reading of War Requiem and, given this, it is not surprising that he was alert to the more elegiac moments of this short work giving it great depth and dignity. He and the London Philharmonic performed Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with equal relish and precise dynamic contrasts. It was in these that were rooted much of the humour of Masur’s delivery – disciplined but expressive.

The meat of the evening following this light but unexpectedly rewarding pairing of two twentieth-century symphonies came in the form of Beethoven’s Emperor concerto played by Maurizio Pollini. That this was an event there was no doubt. As so often with great virtuosos, orchestra and conductor seemed spurred on to go that little bit further. So there was plenty of edge with the polish. It was a perceptively close bond between Pollini and the players and while the Italian’s solos often took the breath away this was a performance as remarkable for its balance of ensemble and dialogue. The wind section seemed to play with the same beauty and nobility of sound for which Pollini is famous and he himself seemed to be wallowing in their musicianship.

As for his-own virtuosity, the filigree playing was cleanly articulated and the tantalising bridge section between the slow movement and finale was a masterclass in pedal control. Never an ugly sound, but there was plenty of passion here too. It wasn’t it must be said a thunderously dramatic account but it was extremely sensitive to elements of both classical and romantic style. And what a treat to hear such a warhorse of the repertoire given such an enthusiastic, urgent and fresh-minted reading.

With a packed house in which you could hear a pin drop there was the occasional turn of the head as the sound was augmented by a slightly distracting humming obbligato. I wasn’t quite close enough to determine from where it was coming but if it was from the platform it would be hard to carp when it accompanies artistry of this calibre.

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