Markus Groh’s Bartók Enhances his Reputation

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven, Bartók, Debussy, Ravel: Markus Groh (piano), Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra Michael Tabachnik (conductor), Cadogan Hall, London, 8.3.2013 (RB)

Beethoven: Overture: Egmont
Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 3
Debussy: La Mer
Ravel: Bolero

Michael Tabachnik is well known for his interpretations of contemporary music and he often programmes 20th century music alongside mainstream orchestral repertoire in order to give new works a greater degree of exposure. Tabachnik and the Brussels Philharmonic were joined in this concert by Markus Groh, a brilliant young German pianist who is increasingly garnering critical acclaim for his interpretations, particularly of Liszt.

Beethoven’s Egmont Overture opened in a rather tentative way but both orchestra and conductor soon got into their stride in the ensuing Allegro. The drama and conflict at the heart of the work were brought vividly to life although I would have welcomed a slightly more muscular approach on occasion. The coda was taken at a blistering speed with some impressive playing by the strings in particular bringing the work to a triumphant end.

Markus Groh is often praised for his sound imagination as well as his virtuoso technique and he managed to conjure a terrify range of sounds from his Steinway in this performance of the Bartók Third Piano Concerto. In the opening Allegretto his playing was very clean and precise and he adopted a hard tone to convey the percussive nature of the work but without sacrificing beauty of sound. The adagio religioso was quite gorgeous and really seemed to lift the performance into a different league. Groh conjured a luminous glow in the opening chorale and brought out the lyrical and expressive side to the work. The evocation of birds and insects in the central section was brilliantly realised while the neo-classical final section was played with supreme elegance. In the final rondo, Groh unleashed virtuoso fireworks and played with considerable power and authority. The neo-baroque counterpoint was playful but edgy and some of the cadenzas were played as Lisztian flourishes. Overall, this was a superb performance from an excellent young pianist.

In Debussy’s La Mer, Tabachnik and the Brussels Philharmonic did a good job in depicting atmosphere and there was an imaginative range of textures and sonorities throughout. The opening movement was full of vivid contrasts and well executed orchestral effects although I felt the movement as a whole seemed a little fragmented and it did not quite gel together as a cohesive whole. Jeux de Vagues was better and the orchestra really seemed to capture the playful and sensual elements of the music. I was particularly impressed with the way in which the wind, harp and percussion conveyed the sparkle of light on the waves. The woodwind captured the sense of threat and urgency in the final movement and I was again particularly impressed with the percussion in creating a range of imaginative musical effects. There was an impressive range of dynamics throughout the movement and the final depiction of the sea in all its power and majesty was thrilling.

The concert ended with Ravel’s Bolero, perhaps the most popular 20th century work in the repertoire. Tabachnik and the Brussels Philharmonic deserve credit for bringing a sense of freshness and immediacy to the score. They made the sinuous melody, which threads through the piece, varied and interesting and the incremental build up in sonority and dynamics was extremely well handled.

The audience responded with enthusiasm and conductor and orchestra gave an upbeat performance of Brahms’ fifth Hungarian Dance as an encore.

Robert Beattie