Wit, Mischief and Elegance from Richard Egarr

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schubert, Haydn, Mozart: Richard Egarr (conductor/piano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 06.03.2014 (SRT)

Schubert: Symphony No. 2
Haydn: Piano Concerto in D
Mozart: Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”


I missed Richard Egarr enormously when he had to pull out of the SCO’s B minor mass last December, so I was doubly excited to see him back on the podium (and at the keyboard) tonight.  It’s not just his musicianship that makes him so popular in Scotland, but his rapport with the audience.  His banter at the beginning of the evening, and later his more focused explanation of Haydn’s concerto, mark him out as a good communicator, with words as well as with music, and when that musical communication came, it certainly packed a punch.  The orchestra had slightly reduced forces for the first half, but you couldn’t have told, so explosive was the energy that emanated from the stage.  Schubert’s Largo introduction bristled with the crackle of natural brass and timps, and the strings set off at a bustling gallop with the onset of the Allegro.  The second movement’s variations shone with both grace and humour, and the last two movements used their heaviness to invoke wit rather than seriousness.

When he takes to the keyboard, Egarr’s concerto performances are characterised by razor-sharp wit and characterful improvisations, both before, during and between movements.  His playing of Haydn’s D major concerto was both graceful and exciting because no-one, either in the audience or, seemingly, on the stage, seemed to know what was coming next!  He was at his most brilliantly mischievous in the gypsy-inspired finale which featured, among other things, an outrageously low trill which led into an explosive minor-key episode.  As with so many great creative artists, with Egarr you never know quite what you’re going to get, but you know it’s going to be good.

There was ebullience on display in Mozart’s Jupiter symphony, too, but elegance a-plenty, too, and large doses of legato to leaven the splendour, such as the way he rounded off the phrasing of the first movement’s second subject.  Cheeky pauses and changes of tempo and dynamics kept everyone on their toes, and I loved the way a particular phrase would sometimes rise to the top, such as a slur on the bassoon towards the end of the first movement, or the rit for the wind chords at the start of the third movement’s trio.  The orchestral tone was carefully graded, too, especially in the slow movement, with its strings that were a little pinched but still sounded full of vigour.  The finale was where Egarr played it the most “straight”, and rightly so: in this movement, where genius piles on top of miraculous invention, often the best thing you can do is sit back and marvel.

Simon Thompson