Paul Lewis Beethoven (4) [RSNO/Denève]

Overture, Le carnaval romain, Op.9
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)
The Sacrifice – Three Interludes [London premiere]
The Pines of Rome

Paul Lewis (piano)

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Stéphane Denève

Reviewed by: Bob Briggs

Reviewed: 6 September, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Things got off to a cracking start with a performance of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture that was bawdy, gaudy, thoughtful, beautiful, and great fun; Stéphane Denève directing an extrovert account of great brilliance.

Paul Lewis. Photograph: Jack LiebeckIt was followed by the final instalment of Paul Lewis’s Beethoven Piano Concertos given this season. Lewis was more at home than in those previous performances. The first movement got off to a splendid start, Denève setting a brisk, and totally satisfying, tempo for the first movement, Lewis responding with thrilling, and very energetic, playing. In some ways one felt that it was Denève’s performance rather than Lewis’s, so in control was he. In the Adagio Lewis distanced himself somewhat from the music, giving a rather bland, and square, reading and the finale lacked the heft required to bring about the big finish Beethoven intended. Lewis has the technique, to be sure, and the heart of a Beethovenian, but he hasn’t yet quite got to grips with these concertos as complete entities.

Stéphane Denève. Photograph: J Henry FairJames MacMillan’s opera “The Sacrifice” was written for Welsh National Opera and is based on a take from the Mabinogion. As with Britten and Tippett, a concert-piece has been extracted from the score, but I wonder if MacMillan has done himself any favours, for there is a lot of Britten in the second and third interludes, much to MacMillan’s detriment. Indeed, there were times when I fully expected the ‘Storm Interlude’ from “Peter Grimes” to burst forth! Also, with an over-abundance of percussion, much orchestral detail was obscured; but there is too little music of real substance, and a lack of personality overall.

Denève’s conducting of The Pines of Rome was as extrovert and colourful as one could have wished for, but he was also as tender as a gentle lover in the quiet solitude of ‘Pines of the Janiculum Hill’. The final march of the Roman Armies in ‘The Pines of the Via Appia’ was superbly handled and the climax, with the addition of the Royal Albert Hall organ, was truly a roof-raising experience. The RSNO responded to every demand Denève made of it, with playing of the very highest calibre. The evening was Denève’s for the insight and interpretative élan he brought to the music-making.

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