Proms 2011 – Late-night Brahms, Schumann & Brahms/Schoenberg – Hewitt & Manze

Three Intermezzos, Op.117 – Nos.1 & 2
Introduction and Concert Allegro in D minor, Op.134
Brahms, orch. Schoenberg
Piano Quartet in G minor, Op.25

Angela Hewitt (piano)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Andrew Manze

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 19 August, 2011
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Angela Hewitt. ©Peter HundertThe music of Brahms and Schumann will forever be intertwined, but this was a truly unusual late-night Prom of musical contrasts, moving from the intensely personal asides of Brahms’s Opus 117 Intermezzos (well, two of them) to the grandiose orchestral arrangement that Schoenberg made of Brahms’s G minor Piano Quartet. Angela Hewitt began, prompting the thought that a whole collection of Brahms’s shorter piano works would make a fine eleventh-hour recital. Their intimacy is perfectly suited to the late hours, and here the first Intermezzo filled the acoustic easily. Hewitt’s preferred Fazioli piano, bizarrely lit from within, gave a slightly crisper sound but was nicely sustained.

Andrew Manze. Photograph: Felix BroedeSchumann’s late Introduction and Concert Allegro, dedicated to Brahms, is a triumph indeed given its troubled genesis months prior to the composer’s suicide-attempt of 1854. Initially this is a difficult score to warm to, that is until the second theme, played here in a charming dolce style by the orchestra and then by Hewitt in the cadenza. Elsewhere the pianist’s staccato did battle with a full string sound, conducted at a quick tempo by the enthusiastic Andrew Manze.

Manze also kept things moving in Schoenberg’s indulgent transcription of the Brahms – indulgent because he wanted to hear the then not-often-played chamber original more often. There are some occasionally startling effects, unexpected snaps of percussion, florid and richly-sounded woodwind and extravagant and sometimes-cheeky brass comments. The scoring can be too full and too busy, and Manze’s up-front tempos lost some of the finer details. Yet there was plenty of passion, the BBC Scottish Symphony responding robustly to its Associate Guest Conductor in the fast music, a silvery sheen applied to the Intermezzo by way of muted violins, their melody attractively shaped. With boundless vigour Manze persuaded us to warm to Schoenberg’s arrangement, so much so that we could forgive the outlandish flourishes of the finale, for they crowned a most enjoyable performance.

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