Paul Lewis Beethoven (2) [CBSO/Nelsons]

Rienzi – Overture
Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.19
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)

Paul Lewis (piano)

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons

Reviewed by: Richard Landau

Reviewed: 29 July, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Andris Nelsons. Photograph: Marco BorggreveThis very fine concert offered further evidence that Andris Nelsons, who has been at the helm of the CBSO since 2008, is continuing the transformative work of his predecessors. By the end of the evening it was transparently clear why this conductor is now so highly esteemed in Birmingham and far beyond.

Nelsons is presently conducting Wagner’s “Lohengrin” at Bayreuth. The Overture to his “Rienzi”, often regarded as rather shallow stuff, was given a most convincing reading. Nelsons took the opening pages very broadly, sculpting refined and touching playing from winds and violins, and a deeply sonorous contribution from the lower strings. Each appearance of the prayer-like theme was so subtly graduated in volume and intensity that any thought of vulgarity was almost wholly banished. The overwhelming mood was one of grandeur, as Nelsons skillfully directed the piece towards to its blazing conclusion in which the brass did itself proud.

Paul Lewis. Photograph: Jack LiebeckPaul Lewis then continued his Proms 2010 cycle of Beethoven piano concertos with the Second. Immediately striking was the urgent and deep-toned orchestral introduction, which set the mood for the soloist’s entry. Lewis’s playing was straightforward and unaffected, eschewing rhetorical gestures, even in the cadenza, as though underlining that, its number aside, this was Beethoven’s earliest acknowledged work in this particular genre. In the slow movement Nelsons and the CBSO offered support that was every bit as tender as Lewis’s essaying, not least some especially fine work from oboist Rainer Gibbons. Lewis’s spry and transparent way with the finale found its perfect foil, too, in the perfectly attuned and buoyant accompaniment.

Any who feel tired of hearing Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony should have heard Andris Nelsons’s interpretation, the work new-minted. The beautiful opening of the first movement, here unselfconsciously shaped, commanded attention right away, after which the sheer energy and variegated moods of the Allegro molto (its exposition not repeated) were negotiated in a manner that seemed wholly natural and inevitable. The brass choir and Alan Garner’s cor anglais confidently and graphically introduced the plaintive mood of the Largo, further graced with other superb contributions, any number of molto espressivo passages falling like balm on the ears. The scherzo, notable for some exquisitely lyrical wind playing, was by turns vital, perky and charming, whilst the finale evinced many more examples of virtuosity, Nelsons negotiating his players through music whose unbridled energy is often attenuated by darker undercurrents. The final affirmation, though, was thoroughly uplifting.

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