EIF 13: Transparent Playing from the Clevelanders, Wry Humour from Vogt





United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Lutoslawski, Smetana, Shostakovich: Lars Vogt (piano), Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 21.8.2012. (SRT)

Smetana: Má Vlast (Parts 5 & 6)
Lutoslawski: Piano Concerto
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6

Picking up where we left off, tonight’s concert opened with what was left of Má Vlast.  Tábor began with atmospheric scene painting, the Hussite hymn tune emerging as through the mist, the martial aspects carrying a real edge of threat, and in the final pages of Blaník the different themes slotted together to provide a fitting apotheosis.  However, I’m still baffled by the decision to split the cycle over two nights.  These two tone poems by themselves are an odd way to begin a concert!

The attention to detail in the Clevelanders’ playing is still remarkable, however.  The clarity and transparency is so evident that you feel as though you are listening with new ears with every aspect laid bare and open.  That’s good for a traditional work like Má Vlast, but if anything it’s even more valuable for Lutoslawski’s quicksilver piano concerto.  The shimmering, delicate opening sparkled like a diamond and the rich harmonic textures were always glinting through the orchestral context.  Despite the open-ness of the writing, the sound was never anaemic, but rich and luxurious.  The great Lars Vogt played the piano part with a wry sense of humour, and liberal doses of pianistic comedy frequently lit up the often dark orchestral landscape of the work.  He was sparky and dry at the quirky opening of the second movement, with a questioning, almost uncertain tone to the cadenza at the start of the third.  Under the hands of both Vogt and Welser-Möst the angular jousting of the passacaglia worked very well indeed, with the sense of a powerful struggle building inexorably then finding resolution.  Polish music has featured heavily in Edinburgh over the last week, but I’ve enjoyed this stellar playing of Lutoslawski much more than the LSO’s attempts to revive the reputation of Szymanowski which, to my ears, were hampered by their own sincerity.

Shostakovich’s openly schizophrenic Sixth Symphony is a hard work to get right, but if it’s well judged then it’s a great opportunity for an orchestra to showcase the two extremes of their emotional level.  Orchestra and conductor got right to the heart of Shostakovich’s opening lament; the incredibly soulful Cleveland strings emoting with dark majesty and the deathscape of the ending almost unbearable in its desolation with wintry strings fading into nothing.  The keening cor anglais over shimmering middle strings is one of those moments that makes everything else lose significance.  However, this was promptly dispelled by the irreverent winds of the second movement and the headlong finale played here with bags of zany wit.  Did Shostakovich really mean it?  Played with conviction like this, it scarcely seems to matter.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 2nd September at a range of venues across the city.  A selection of performances will be reviewed in these pages.  For full details go to www.eif.co.uk


Simon Thompson