Overture in C ‘in the Italian Style’, D591
Piano Concerto No.23 in A, K488
Symphony No.9 in C, D944 (Great)
Maria João Pires (piano)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers
Reviewed: 28 August, 2015
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
In these three works of contrasted style and scale, the celebrated Chamber Orchestra of Europe forged a consistent approach by bringing out much of the inner detail of the music and also distilling the unique character of each. In one of Schubert’s pair of ‘Italian Overtures’, written in response to the craze for Rossini’s music which swept Vienna in 1816 (the other is in D, 590 in Otto Deutsch’s catalogue), Bernard Haitink brought a tantalising reserve during quieter moments, before breaking out into more extrovert drama elsewhere, as though setting the scene for a theatrical work to follow.
Mozart’s Piano Concertos are often compared to his operatic output, but K488 is one of his most settled and serene, qualities often elicited when he was writing in the key of A major. Haitink led the COE and Maria João Pires in an intimate reading, allowing its natural, ever-fresh fluency to emerge spontaneously, though in the first movement some of the phrases were a little clipped. A general lack of vibrato led to some raw sounds in both this and the Schubert Symphony, but the COE’s subtle dynamic shadings ensured a tranquil and humane course on the whole. Pires ensured textural balance with her gentle playing, not promoted over or against the orchestra. As a result of that, the relatively swift Adagio sounded neutral in character, rather than deeply tragic or melancholic (the woodwinds added an episode of some warmth) and the almost-immediate take-up of the finale did not feel at all jolting. Pires’s rendition moved along with playful bounce, bringing the Concerto to a delectable conclusion.
The ’Great C major’ Symphony opened with a deceptively innocent horn-call, the COE soon instilling gravitas into the remainder of this introduction. Haitink sustained this through the whole work despite forward-moving tempos and a lack of rubato which might, in theory, have militated against such grandeur. The fact that it did not is testimony to Haitink’s generously conceived view (with all repeats save for the finale) of this proto-Brucknerian score, which he moulded with a due sense of purpose and momentum into a cogent argument, as he has proved so capable of doing in the huge Symphonies of the later Austrian composer.
That was particularly the case in the determined tread of the second-movement Andante con moto, where the build-up to the tumultuous dissonance at the climax (presaging that of the Adagio of Bruckner’s Ninth) was as searing and as dramatic as it could be. The third-movement Scherzo contrasted the earthier, stamping haste of the outer sections with the long-breathed elegant flow of the Ländler-like Trio. The finale maintained continuous rhythmic drive, as it should, ending with an exhilarating sense of irrepressible vitality.
Haitink achieved a synthesis of lightness, clarity and weight in all these performances to a satisfyingly successful degree which probably only a few conductors now alive could emulate, and which only a special ensemble such as the COE could effect.