Seen&Heard Editor: Marc Bridle                              Founder Len Mullenger:

MusicWeb Internet
 powered by FreeFind 

S & H Concert Review

Mozart, Bruckner Paul Lewis (piano); Philharmonia Orchestra/Christoph von Dohnányi, Royal Festival Hall, London, Thursday, October 9th, 2003 (CC)

Dedicated to the memory of Lotte Klemperer (Otto Klemperer’s daughter, who died July 1st, 2003), it was perhaps appropriate that Mozart and Bruckner constituted the bill of fare. Klemperer, whose links with the Philharmonia are now the stuff of legend (not to mention journalists’ clichés!), excelled in both, leaving recordings that are still venerated to this day. Particularly in the Bruckner, one wished it was, indeed, Dr Klemperer on the podium on this occasion.

The concert began well enough, with a brisk and breezy Overture to Le nozze di Figaro. Dohnányi’s initial beat was tiny, yet the orchestra picked up the tempo as one. There was a jubilant aura to the opening forte which, alas, the performance did not live up to. Despite much froth, there was little of the cumulative effect so necessary to enable the final celebratory ‘release’ work.

Both this and the next programmed piece date from the same year, 1786. The Piano Concerto No. 25 in C is a substantial work. Not the most popular of the later concertos in the concert hall, it can provide an overwhelming experience in the right hands. Paul Lewis’ hands were almost those. Lewis is a young player whose Schubert recordings for Harmonia Mundi have gained much praise. He is intensely musical (his entry was the very definition of civility), he was very sensitive to harmonic shifts (a real bonus especially in the first movement, with its tendency to shift towards the minor) and he was able to provide scintillating scalic work. All round there was much to admire (after a slightly shaky orchestral start). If Lewis’ nerves might have caused him to over-pedal early on, this improved considerably and quickly.

Mozart’s slow movements expose any weaknesses. Lewis played with much elegance and was almost improvisatory at times, shading the line well. Some of the orchestral contributions were less suave: after an almost miraculously smooth arpeggio-figure on the horns, repetitions had a tendency to be distinctly ropy. The finale, however, had much wit. Indeed, some minor caveats apart, this was the highlight of the concert.

Bruckner in the Royal Festival Hall always reminds me of the good old days of the BBCSO and Günter Wand. The Philharmonia with Klemperer made a famous recording of the Fourth, now apparently and inexplicably deleted from the catalogue. Dohnányi recorded much Bruckner when he was at Cleveland. No surprise he presented it by memory. He stopped the opening of the slow movement, rightly, because of some mobile/pager device from the crowd: never would have happened in Klemperer’s day, you know! And there was much to enjoy, from the solo horn calls of the opening (although downward octave slurs seemed to pose a real challenge) to the grandeur of the fortissimos and some superbly controlled, terraced dynamics. The long viola line of the ‘slow’ movement was beautifully warm; the ‘cellos, also, glowed at times. Brass blazed appropriately at the close, mighty and resplendent. Good on moments, then.

The structure, of paramount importance in Bruckner, was the problem (or one of them). There was too little feeling of culmination, hardly any sense of the monumental. And this lack of long-range thought was the performance’s downfall. So, when there are ominous repeated double-bass pizzicati in the finale, it was like being prodded, rather irritatingly, with a stick. They just did not go anywhere. The other downside was Dohnányi’s inability to let the music relax or smile. The Scherzo’s Trio was gentle, but not convincingly bucolic (it was just a notch too slow to be that), a pity as the Scherzo itself, with its driving horn rhythms, was actually the apex of the performance. When Bruckner opts to write in pastoral mode, Dohnányi doggedly would not let the light in.

Many impressive moments do not make up a memorable experience, as Dohnányi conclusively proved. We must wait until another day to fully worship at the shrine of Bruckner.

Colin Clarke



Seen&Heard is part of MusicWeb Webmaster: Len Mullenger

Return to: Seen&Heard Index

Return to: Music on the Web