United Kingdom Wagner, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky: Maria João Pires (piano), Augustin Dumay (violin), Antonio Meneses (cello), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Jukka-Pekka Saraste (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, 24.10.2014 (CC)
Wagner – Lohengrin: Prelude to Act I
Beethoven – Concerto for Violin, Cello, Piano and Orchestra in C major, Op. 56
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64
Mainstream programming though this might have been, the result was a fascinating evening of music. Many will have come to hear Maria João Pires, and rightly so. Outings for Beethoven’s Triple Concerto are relatively few (despite a performance earlier this year over at the Barbican) for a number of reasons: the price of three soloists, for a start, unless one opts to feature the orchestra’s string leaders. And not for nothing is it known in cello circles as the “cripple concerto” – the melodic lines for the cello are frequently high and exposed. The soloist on this occasion, the experienced Antonio Meneses, was remarkably unperturbed. Lines sang beautifully, and his tone was simply ravishing on more than one occasion. If there was a weak link, it was violinist Augustin Dumay, a player of remarkably cool persona whose tone, on this occasion, was not the most pleasing and whose delivery could sometimes veer towards the unsubtle. Pires was her usual musical self – like Uchida, she seems unable to even consider an ugly sound or an ill-considered phrase. The piano part, for Beethoven, is remarkably straightforward, yet Pires regularly found magic in even the most seemingly simply turn of phrase.
The orchestral contributions were ever-musical. The first item, the Prelude to Act 1 of Lohengrin, was well if not memorably delivered, but the one thing that shone through was Saraste’s musicality. He balanced the timbral shiftings of the opening with an expertise that is rarely encountered and gleaned from the London Philharmonic strings a wonderfully honeyed sound. Clearly, textures were carefully considered throughout, and it was this self-same clean-cut quality that ran through the Beethoven performance. Excitement was never truly generated, and there could certainly have been a more joyful element to the finale. Yet the rapport between conductor and players was extremely evident.
Saraste conducted the Tchaikovsky from memory, and it clearly a work he knows inside-out. Nothing was overstated, which some might feel a weakness in this passionate music. Yet there was spirit in abundance, and the result was a freshness of reading that was most invigorating. David Pyatt was the horn player who tackled the famous second movement solo – it was difficult to nail whether the wobble was due to vibrato or nerves. Saraste’s view of this movement was beautifully flowing; the third was packed with balletic charm. The finale brought with it some much-needed urgency but the overall impression was of slightly restrained Tchaikovsky.