Exciting, Thrilling, Exhilarating Brahms from John Lill

02/02/2014

 Stravinsky, Schubert, Brahms: John Lill (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Douglas Boyd (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 31.01.2014 (SRT)

Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments
Schubert: Symphony No. 4 “Tragic”
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1

 

This concert was touted in the RSNO Programme as a celebration of John Lill’s 70th birthday and, sure enough, Lill’s was the finest contribution to the evening.  He is exactly the sort of artist that you can imagine being right at home in Brahms’ epic first piano concerto.  He has the stamina for Brahms’ great displays of technique, and his perpetuum mobile left hand drove the Rondo finale like an engine.  He had plenty of poetry too, however, such as the moment of the piano’s first entry where it tries to pour oil on the troubled waters of the opening tutti, or the beautiful chordal subject that serves as a contrast to the first movement’s anguished main theme.  Hearing him was exciting, often thrilling, and an exhilarating way into this great masterpiece.

If only the orchestra had been allowed to match him in terms of extroversion and energy!  Douglas Boyd kept them firmly on the leash for most of the concerto so that they sounded on their best behaviour when they should have been shaking the audience’s bones.  The opening of the first movement, in particular, needed much more power of attack.  Those jagged opening chords need to hit the listener right in the solar plexus; here they seemed to present themselves politely.  It took Lill’s torrent of octaves at the outset of the development to inject some much needed energy into the orchestral playing, but he continued to lead them rather than to match them.  Astonishingly, the appearance of the main theme played by the piano along at the start of the recapitulation sounded more arresting than when it had been played by the full strings at the very beginning!  Something has surely gone wrong when that is the case.  Boyd’s approach worked better in the second movement, though.  At first it seemed too slow to my ears, but it ended up feeling just about right, with plenty of room for the themes to breathe, and the orchestral restraint that bothered me in the first movement served the contemplative nature of the Adagio much better, though the almost reverential air of hush came rather too close to an air of holy mystery for my liking.

Boyd also chose an unusually large (for our day) orchestra for Schubert’s fourth symphony, but here that restraint served them well because they never overwhelmed the flow of the line.  His approach to the first and third movements struck me as fairly ordinary, but the finale had a wry sparkle to it, and the finest moment came with the main string theme of the Andante, a warm sound without being too fat or indulgent.  Stravinsky’s Symphonies avoided any charge of indulgence, but it was good to have such a warm brass sound generated by the trumpets and trombones, against which the angular lines of the woodwinds could do their episodic work.

Simon Thompson

Print Friendly

Comments

Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Holland Park’s 2018 Season Begins Soon __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018/19 Birmingham Classical Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe Star in The King and I at the London Palladium __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 BBC Proms __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera Celebrates its 25th Anniversary with Nicolò Isouard’s Cinderella __________________________________
  • NEW! Pop-Up Opera’s 2018 Mozart Double Bill __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Abandoned Liszt Opera Sardanapalo Premieres in Weimar in August __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! MARKUS POSCHNER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Massenet’s Thaïs at the Cadogan Hall on 23 June __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli Sings for Chelsea Pensioners, at Cadogan Hall, and Signs for Sony/ATV __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • NEW! MICHAEL SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Trinity Laban Moves to Abolish All-Male Composer Concerts __________________________________
  • NEW! ARABELLA STEINBACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR LAURENCE EQUILBEY IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH LISETTE OROPESA AS SHE RETURNS TO LA OPERA FOR ORFEO ED EURIDICE __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month