Egmont, Op.84 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
John Lill (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Alan Sanders
Reviewed: 12 March, 2014
Venue: Concert Hall, Fairfield Halls, Park Lane, Croydon, South London
This concert was promoted as one of the events to celebrate John Lill’s 70th-birthday (on March 17). It was very an old-fashioned Beethoven night, with even the inclusion, praise be, of an overture, which is now a rare musical species in today’s orchestral programmes. The traditional format attracted a strikingly elderly audience, whose general lack of mobility wasn’t helped by Fairfield Halls’s creaking administration. This venue, its acoustic once attracting such luminaries as Britten and Stokowski, now has a lower profile, with fewer classical concerts, but this should not be the cause of deficient management in such events that do take place.
It must have been by design, however, that there was no rostrum for Paul Daniel, who merely stood in front of his players, conducting without a baton. Fortunately Daniel is taller than most of his colleagues, and in the Egmont Overture he was clearly the dominant force behind a speedy, taut performance.
In the ‘Emperor’ Concerto John Lill delivered an immaculate performance. Age has not affected his imposing technique, and the sounds he draws from the keyboard are unfailingly rewarding. But since his earliest performance of this work over half a century ago he has clearly made up his mind how it should be played. Everything is perfectly in style, there is no detail that any purist could object to, and the interpretation has clearly been mapped out precisely. Such security of intent and execution ensures a pleasing result at one level, but one yearned for an unexpected turning of a phrase, or some shaft of illumination that had occurred to the pianist on the spur of the moment. Lill was at his best in bravura passages, of which there are many in this piece, but more reflective passages seemed routinely wrought.
In the ‘Eroica’ Symphony Daniel set a fast pace for the opening movement (without the exposition repeat) and the impression was of much energy being generated rather than a liberation of Beethoven’s revolutionary musical ideas. The ‘Funeral March’ initially seemed merely nicely shaped, but as it progressed a depth of poignant expression that had not been experienced thus far became apparent, and the end of the movement was eloquently expressed. For the remainder of the work a much-enhanced rapport between orchestra and conductor continued with a quicksilver scherzo and a trenchant trio, the horns a little unrefined, perhaps; and the finale’s variations were vividly and weightily conveyed, to form a satisfying end to the evening.