Brahms, arr. Dejan Lazić
‘Piano Concerto No.3’ in D (after Violin Concerto in D, Op.77) [UK premiere]
Invocation for cello and orchestra, Op.19/2
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36
Dejan Lazić (piano)
Julian Lloyd Webber (cello)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 11 August, 2011
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Johann Sebastian Bach did it, and so did Beethoven. Now Johannes Brahms has followed suit, albeit with no say in the matter unlike his illustrious predecessors – his violin concerto has been turned into one for piano. Brahms has Dejan Lazić to thank (or not) for achieving his ‘Piano Concerto No.3’ (a bit of a cheek to number it). Yet even with Lazić himself at the piano, albeit playing rather plainly, if adeptly, in a third-party capacity, this UK premiere neither illuminated nor infuriated. Lazić loves this work and wants to play it, very understandable, and his transcription has been undertaken with respect and skill; and there is a centuries-old tradition of making arrangements. Yet although the piece always sounds musically recognisable and occasionally fits idiomatically to the ‘new’ instrument, Brahms’s violin-inspired writing generally comes across as less-interesting on a piano, the first movement now more akin to those many but not-great Romantic Piano Concertos now available to us (Schwarenka, 1850-1924, came to mind); the slow movement becomes more-redolent of Chopin than the German originator; and, as for the finale … well, gypsies are more associated with violins than with pianos.
Throughout this performance, decently enough supported by the BBC Philharmonic and Vassily Sinaisky, there seemed little point in Lazić having effected this ‘changeover’, save for his own pleasure. An encore from him wasn’t looked for, but he gave us one anyway, a little something from Schumann’s Waldszenen (Opus 82). There seems to be a current debate about whether encores should be played or not; and when it is appropriate to do so. Julian Lloyd Webber’s extra item, ‘Serenata’ from Britten’s First Cello Suite, a not very interesting pizzicato movement (although it may convince more in context) countered the rapt mood the cellist had established in his persuasive account of Holst’s 10-minute Invocation: incantatory, elegiac and star-gazing music. Such a lovely and suggestive score, imaginatively orchestrated, would have been better served left to resonate in the mind for longer.
The Prom opened with Frank Bridge’s Rebus (1940), his final work, its excitable chatter and warning tensions crisply presented, but its rapturous section didn’t quite expand gloriously enough, strings needing to be more in the aural picture. But it was good to hear this wonderful piece, so deserving of many more outings. No such worries for not coming across Enigma Variations again. It was typically annotated as Elgar’s affectionate tribute to his friends, although some commentators find a darker side to the work, that the composer was sometimes being less than complimentary to his associates. Also continually promulgated is that Variation XIII – ‘*** (Romanza)’ – includes a quotation (on clarinet) from Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, which it might well do, Elgar said so; but was he mistaken or deliberately adding another layer of mystery, for some find the borrowing to be from Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Leaving aside the magnifying glass and deerstalker that this inexhaustible masterpiece still demands, Sinaisky and the BBC Philharmonic took the score at face-value, freshly and dedicatedly, leading to and away from a dignified ‘Nimrod’ with certainty and capturing well the closing flamboyance of the composer’s self-portrait. A shame that the organ glowered detrimentally to the violins at the end, but over its course this performance (with notable viola and cello solos, and from the maybe-Schumann clarinet) captured the accepted spirit of this music with alacrity.