United Kingdom Beethoven: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Dima Slobodeniouk (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 01.03.2013 (SRT)
Beethoven: Leonore Overture No. 3
Piano Concerto No. 3
Symphony No. 3 Eroica
After an all-Haydn concert last night, it was all-Beethoven across town with the RSNO – an exciting prospect confirmed in the very first bars of music we heard, with the strings in the opening bars of Leonore 3 pregnant with potential and suggestion. Dima Slobodeniouk, a young Russian making his debut with the orchestra, has a very precise and easy-to-follow manner with his baton, but ironically this didn’t necessarily lead to precise music-making. In fact, the texture of the overture sounded decidedly cloudy, with semiquavers blending into each other in a rather undisciplined way.
It was left to Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, a late stand-in for an unwell Rudolf Buchbinder, to inject a bit of raw excitement. His is perhaps not a name we naturally associate with Beethoven, and he brought plenty of Gallic legato to the cadenzas, bringing out the poetry as well as the virtuosity. He is a showman to the core. From time to time he would lift his “spare” hand off the keyboard and show it to the audience, presumably just to show that he could, and his tongue was firmly in his cheek as he came to the humour of the sonata movement he played for his encore. But I still couldn’t shake the off feeling that the orchestra was playing at half-throttle. The sound had lots of sheen but not much passion, and the cork didn’t really come out of the bottle until the finale when the tuttis carried proper energy and sparkle.
Perhaps someone put something in the interval drinks, though, because the Eroica was much more dynamic. Slobodeniouk and the orchestra seemed to derive much more energy from this score, particularly its edgy, often jarring rhythms. It was these that made the first movement such a success, and the same was true in the Scherzo, though the horns in the trio sounded a little withdrawn. The climax of the funeral march carried a real sense of power to it, as did the final pages of the finale, though I wished that this level of energy had arrived a little earlier in the evening.