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Webern, Beethoven, Schubert: Paul Lewis (piano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Andrew Manze (conductor), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 5.11.2009 (SRT)

Five Movements, Op. 5

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3

Schubert: Symphony No. 6 in C “Little”

After a slightly lacklustre opening to the season the SCO here produced an evening of pure gold. Last year’s Schubert/Mozart concert with Paul Lewis and Andrew Manze was one of the highlights of the season and this hotly anticipated evening delivered on all the expectations. With every performance and every recording Lewis confirms his reputation as one of the finest classical pianists in the world today. He brought palpable intensity to the Beethoven concerto, conducting energy through his body to the keyboard as if there were nothing else in the world at that moment. Every phrase quivered with passion, from the provocative scales of the opening to the final gallop into C major. However he was fully alive to the work’s subtleties, such as an unusually quiet opening to the finale and a still opening to the Largo which seemed to hand in mid-air for ever. The sheer sense of scale he brought to the cadenzas will live with me for a long time, and in this he was matched with utterly committed playing from the SCO whose natural brass lent colour without being distracting. The sharpness of attack from Andrew Manze added to the craggy grandeur of the reading and showed the orchestra at its very best.

In an evening of Viennese classics it’s not inappropriate to include Anton Webern, and the performance of the Five Movements certainly had a lot going for it. The frenetic scherzo and purposeful finale stood in contrast to a really beautiful second movement with its lyrical dialogue between the viola and cello and the moment, just before its conclusion, where the string sound broadens out into a warmth suggestive of late Mahler. However after playing it to open the concert Manze then saw fit to repeat the work at the start of the second half, a very odd decision which testifies to his commitment to the piece but tended to sap the energy out of the second half, making it feel over-long. A real shame, as the Schubert symphony was really cracking, bringing out the genial wit of the piece. The buoyancy of the introduction led to a pleasing chuckle from the winds when introducing the first subject, and the martial elements of the slow movement brought a smile to my face, as did the hurdy-gurdy aspect of the third movement’s trio. If the pace seemed a little lax in the finale then the playing always sparkled and the tutti outbursts provided welcome intrusions. A great evening from an orchestra back on form.

Simon Thompson


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