Fine Performances from Brautigam, Bakels and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Mozart, Beethoven: Ronald Brautigam (piano), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Kees Bakels (conductor), Town Hall, Cheltenham, 20.1.2013. (RJ)

Mozart: Overture – The Impresario
Piano Concerto in No 22 in E flat, K482
Beethoven: Symphony No 3 in E flat, Op 55, “Eroica”

Two of the Netherlands’ most distinguished musicians joined forces with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in a concert which  breathed new life into two established classics.

Ronald Brautigam is probably best known for his performances of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven on fortepiano. However, in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 22 he managed to recreate many of the qualities of this instrument on the large Steinway at his disposal with delicate, intimate playing which sparkled with energy but never went  over the top. The Andante with its sighing phrases has dark overtones, but Brautigam’s restraint in the early stages eased us gently into this wonderful movement, and it was only later that the wistful poignancy of the music became manifest. Two interludes featuring some fine playing by the woodwind brought a sense of the outdoors to the performance and provided a measure of relief. But it also served to highlight the deep sorrow that pervaded the principal theme.

The jaunty rondo bubbled over with energy but later slowed down for a mood of introspection before resuming its jollity. Both conductor and soloist are clearly great admirers of Mozart and this was apparent from the affection they lavished on this concerto.

Kees Bakels may look like an elder statesman of music, but there was nothing staid about his conducting and nothing hackneyed about his interpretation of Beethoven’s Eroica.  Indeed, he injected a sense of excitement and anticipation into the music right from the start often giving the impression that he was plucking new melodies out of the air at will and building them up to a satisfying climax. The funeral march of the second movement was masterly with Bakels quietly creating up a sense of pathos before unleashing a powerful account of the fugal lament with its mixed emotions of sorrow and anger.  The lively scherzo quickly dissipated the atmosphere of gloom with some scintillating playing from the strings contrasting with torrents of sound from the full orchestra. The three horns came into their own in the bouncy trio.

The theme and variations of the final movement provided a fitting end to this landmark symphony, which developed from unassuming beginnings into music of tremendous power and complexity peppered with humour, energy, drama, imagination, colour and contrast. Here the BSO gave an excellent account of themselves with Bakels steering his ship deftly and with enthusiam and  flair. This was a heroic performance by a group of musicians who know and respect one another – Kees Bakels has a long association with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, having been its chief guest conductor in the 1990s. Considered with the Mozart of the first half this concert was much more than the sum of its parts and did full justice to the music of two of the world’s greatest composers.

Roger Jones