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PROM 37: Brahms, Beethoven, Wagner, Hartmann, Gianluca Cascioli (piano); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Ingo Metzmacher, Royal Albert Hall, 11 August, 2005 (CC)



Gianluca Cascioli evidently has a very searching intellect. Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto was announced as being, 'with the composer's own variants to the solo part, as found in the original manuscript score', and there was even a note from Cascioli explaining his researches into the original manuscript. Here he found that 'Beethoven had written many variants over the piano part to make the piece more brilliant'. As Cascioli puts it, 'A newspaper of the time described the work ... as a highly virtuosic piece. This, combined with Carl Czerny's accounts, justifies, in my opinion, the 'reintroduction' of these variants in tonight's performance'. Brave stuff, in a way, given this work's performance history, and praiseworthy from a musicological perspective.


It is possible that nerves blighted the earlier part of the performance. It was difficult to decide whether the initial spread chord was purposeful or merely a 'miss', and whether the excess of pedal at the piano's re-entrance was a miscalculation or not. Certainly the performance went from strength to strength from then on. Cascioli is more than happy to accompany his woodwind friends – there was a distinct tinge of the chamber to his interpretation. Fascinating to experience the 'variants' that Cascioli has unearthed, too, from extra trills and bass notes to quasi-improvised flourishes. Of course what Cascioli has found are presumably notated improvisations themselves, but sometimes they extend almost to a rewrite.


Strangely for a performance that welcomed 'improvisation' with open arms, the first movement cadenza emerged perfectly organically, a true part of the whole. Cascioli's playing is clearly well beyond his years (he looks like a small boy; he was born in 1979). He judged the end of the slow movement to perfection. The orchestral contribution throughout, however, bordered on the lacklustre (particularly in the first movement exposition). I wonder if Cascioli is to record this? It would be good to ruminate more on these matters.


Each half of the concert had an 'overture'. Metzmacher encouraged a welcome warmth to his Brahms Tragic Overture by emphasizing the inner voices, yet this was a dynamic conception at heart. The orchestra was even more impressive in the Lohengrin Act 1 Prelude, whose well-controlled opening had a marvellous etheric shield of white around it. Only one ragged trumpet chord threatened to detract from a rapt few minutes.


Hartmann's Sixth Symphony of 1951-53 closed the evening. Hartmann's music is hardly regularly heard here at the Proms, and this inclusion was presumably in deference to the composer's centenary this year (August 2). The Sixth is in two movements (Adagio and Toccata variata). The Bergian, shifting textures of the first movement clearly inspired the orchestra, who evidently relished the challenge. A shame the first violins sounded so shrill most of the time. Yet they managed to bring expression to the long-breathed melodies, and to give full rein to the exuberance of the Toccata. The motoric drive was tremendously exciting, while the three fugues seemed to show Hartmann's compositional technique in the best light.



Colin Clarke



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