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Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák: John Lill (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Krzysztof Urbański (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 15.10.2010 (SRT)

Coriolan Overture

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1

Dvořák: Symphony No. 5


Up and coming young Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbański here made his debut with the RSNO, but after one hearing the jury is still out on him. He certainly isn’t a young man in a hurry: his tempi for Beethoven’s Coriolan were a lot slower than I had expected, even lethargic at times. His tone also over-egged the legato so that, for me, the piece lost much of its power, most seriously in the opening chords which didn’t carry nearly enough “oomph”, though they had discovered some of their power when they were recalled just before the end.

He seemed happiest in Dvořák’s Fifth where he captured the folksy swing of the sunny opening and the lilt to the swaying melancholy of the slow movement, helped by gorgeous sound from the cellos. This piece felt distinctively Eastern-European, like Urbański himself, and the jolly scherzo dance wouldn’t have been out of place in a Czech opera: there’s even a triangle to underline the point. Colour and dynamic shading were very fine in the finale, which gave each section an opportunity to shine.

The orchestral playing was also very fine in the Tchaikovsky, but they were let down by their conductor in the finale when the ensemble fell apart quite seriously on more than one occasion. There’s no point speculating as to whose fault this was: what is certain is that John Lill has lost none of his power to cast a musical spell over an audience. A consummate musician, Lill shows remarkable artistry in his playing, tapping into the musical values of every bar and never reverting to showiness for its own sake: the three big cadenzas of the first movement were never flashy or purely technical but were intensely musical and, in places, even quite moving. Lyrical in the slow movement and fiery in the third, it was he who gained the greatest ovation of the evening.

Simon Thompson


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