Proms 2011 – Tonhalle Orchester/Zinman – Anders Hillborg’s Cold Heat … Eroica Symphony … Maria João Pires plays Mozart

Cold Heat [UK premiere]
Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat, K595
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)

Maria João Pires (piano)

Tonhalle Orchester Zürich
David Zinman

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 27 August, 2011
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

A warm welcome from a packed Royal Albert Hall greeted Tonhalle Orchester Zürich for its, on the surface at least, straightforward BBC Prom: the Mozart and Beethoven being familiar fertile territory, and a meaty opener from Swede Anders Hillborg. In typical Hillborg fashion, Cold Heat explores a paradox – the request of David Zinman (the work’s dedicatee) that it be a “toe-tapping, rhythmic sort of piece, with NO slow music whatsoever” only partly met – as there is a conflict of ideas right from the opening, fluttering high woodwinds take flight against a background of grounded, secure and quiet bass, later punctuated by Sibelian (with a debt to Brahms) trombone and trumpet chorales. Zinman (who led the premiere with Berliner Philharmoniker last year) was demonstrably having a ball during the furious middle section (strings desperate to get to some unknown destination) before what felt like a sunrise bathed the orchestration: a compelling close, pure stillness. This is a piece well worth catching.

Maria João Pires. Photograph: Christian SteinerMozart’s final (though certainly not valedictory) thoughts on the piano concerto medium found Maria João Pires in beguiling form, and Zinman’s with-love, light-touch brought much that was rewarding. The outer movements’ cadenzas (Mozart’s own) allowed Pires to really probe the composer’s thoughts. The music’s heart was found in the central Larghetto by the at-one soloist and orchestra, the coda gorgeous in its simplicity.

David Zinman. Photograph: davidzinman.orgZinman certainly has a view of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony: lean and fleet, which in the opening movement found much allegro but no brio, the music literal, hard, and heavily accented, the strings lacking in weight of sound, the metronome too obvious throughout. The ‘Funeral March’ was more a gentle stroll, with some strangely exaggerated and embellished woodwinds intruding, along with the becoming-tiresome hard-stick timpani, Zinman too verbatim. After the expected nifty scherzo, the finale offered some curiosities, maybe from the Hand-of-Zinman (over-ruling Jonathan Del Mar’s edition), one being the use of a string quartet. Otherwise, grandeur and heroism were sacrificed for earthbound clarity, as well as humour.

The ‘Finale’ from Beethoven’s ballet The Creatures of Prometheus was a superb choice of encore, Zinman announcing it as “the same but different” – the main theme forms the basis of the ‘Eroica’ Symphony’s finale, as well as the for-piano Eroica Variations – echoing the oxymorons favoured by Anders Hillborg.

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