Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Rudolf Buchbinder (piano)
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette
Reviewed: 21 November, 2008
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
Although Rudolf Buchbinder has more than 100 recordings to his credit and regularly give concerts in the major European musical centres, he has never been widely recognised in the United States. Nevertheless, earlier this year he appeared in recital in Berkeley, with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Fort Worth Symphony, and now on this tour of Staatskapelle Dresden in Boston, New York City, and at the Tilles Center in Long Island.
A scholarly pianist, Buchbinder is said to own more than eighteen complete editions of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, as well as an extensive collection of autograph scores, first editions, and original documents; he is performing, and has recorded, the complete sonata and concerto cycles. Expectations therefore were high for a very informed and stylish performance of the C major Piano Concerto.
And stylish it was, beautifully, thoughtfully and skillfully executed by pianist, conductor and orchestra, but for the most part the style was more reminiscent of Schubert than of Beethoven. From the very first bar with its tapered-off repeated Cs it was evident that this would be a genteel performance, smoothing out the composer’s rough edges and emphasizing the lightness and playfulness of the score in the outer movements, while the middle one was a flowing cantilena in long lines. Pianist and conductor were of a mind throughout, perfectly matched in their approach, and the orchestra responded as if playing chamber music.
Staatskapelle Dresden, its history dating back to 1548, is one of those orchestras where one immediately senses the pride the players take in their ensemble, and the commitment they have to music. The violinists sit forward in their seats, sections sway in unison, and all musicians seem intensely involved in the performance. Woodwind and brass solos are highly individual, and the string section has a depth and roundness of sound one rarely hears now; this is all the more astounding since this concert was performed in Avery Fisher Hall, usually maligned for its harsh acoustics.
All of these qualities came to fruition in Brahms’s Fourth Symphony. In addition to this richness of sound, the orchestra also demonstrated that it could respond with all the nuances and colors Fabio Luisi summoned. He took a somewhat relaxed tempo in the first movement, bringing out many details in inner voices and counterpoint, as well as establishing different moods and characters. If anything he sometimes highlighted moments a little too much at the expense of forward momentum and drama, until he reached the coda. In the finale he similarly chose to masterfully characterize the individual Variations, but didn’t quite manage to completely integrate them into an overall structure that would inexorably drive to the finish. He was more successful in that respect in the inner movements – an Andante moderato which spun an endless line and featured some of the most gorgeous string playing of the evening, and an appropriately joyful Allegro giocoso.
As an encore the Dresden musicians brought music of a composer closely linked to their city – Carl Maria von Weber’s overture to “Oberon”, giving them a chance to demonstrate their delicate touch and great virtuosity as well.