The Creatures of Prometheus, Op.43 Overture
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)
Joanna MacGregor (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Owain Arwel Hughes
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 26 September, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
Joanna MacGregor is an arresting pianist – thoughtful, sensitive, authoritative and skilled. She is something of a loner, with a highly-strung sensibility and a toned technique. She handled the piano part as if it comprised a string of festive lights – each of them strongly-coloured and utterly distinctive. Thus we encountered a gentle pianissimo of rapt stillness, a crystal-clear picking-out of a prime melody, a masterful left-hand capable of thrusting stentorian octaves into the musical discourse, a trill to make the rafters quiver and scampering arpeggios and scales that neared the speed of light.
She seemed to regard the solo part of the concerto as a series of moments – dark or light, restful or electrifying. I gained no sense of the first movement as a heroic whole – MacGregor’s piano gave a solo performance, punctuated by rather dull orchestral interludes and accompaniments. Her cadenzas, however, were magnificent – onrushing and imperious. The slow movement carried a beautiful stillness, though not quite catching quiet, impassioned serenity. The last movement scampered home joyously – orchestra and pianist, playing like tomboys, and as one.
To my surprise, the star of the evening was the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony – a middle-of-the-road performance of a (too) often-played masterpiece. From the Royal Philharmonic, the work carried a freshness, enthusiasm and affection to die for. The orchestra’s members must know the work inside out, but – and here’s the marvel – it has not gone stale on them. Owain Arwel Hughes, to his credit, saw no need to claim a quixotic individual take on the work. The result – at a forward-moving, lithe pace – was an engaging, sunny experience. I especially enjoyed the mellow brass though I gained much pleasure from the rural woodwind instruments, the singing upper strings, and the gutsy lower ones. The tempos suited the overall concept – the striding vigorously into the country, the flowing streams through the woodland, the rumbustious merry-making and the powerful storm breaking imperiously and cleansing the air. These were simple pleasures, maybe – but pleasures they were … rare pleasures, in fact. This was a treat.