United Kingdom Brahms and Schubert: Natasha Peremski (piano), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, 9.6.2015 (AS)
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15
Schubert: Symphony No. 9 in C, D944, ‘Great’
Brahms’s D minor Piano Concerto imposes considerable physical demands on the soloist, and not so many women pianists have ever tackled the work. The Russian-born Natasha Paremski, now an American citizen, is in her late twenties. According to the programme note she has “astounding virtuosity”, “voracious interpretative abilities” and “flawless technique”. Pity the poor artist who has to try and live up to such a billing. Paremski certainly has a plentiful supply of youthful energy on her side, and her technique is certainly pretty well up to the demands imposed by Brahms. Her tone quality is attractive and nicely varied.
The choice of a majestically slow basic tempo in the first movement will have been Paremski’s, and the score’s Maestoso marking was thus well observed. Dausgaard secured a weighty but dramatic account of the long orchestral introduction, and Paremski’s entry was striking in its poetic, thoughtful quality. And as the movement progressed it was as if we were listening to the work of a much older artist who had been through a lifetime of experience. There was nothing youthfully dashing about Paremski’s playing: it was warmly expressive, serious and while not lacking in spontaneity it had a satisfyingly well-grounded, objective quality. At one point the soloist jumped ahead of the orchestra for a bar or two, but the lapse was not too serious and order was soon returned.
In the Adagio Paremski played with a satisfyingly varied range of phrase, tone colour and dynamics. Hers was a highly concentrated, quite introverted account of the music and Dausgaard and the orchestra responded sympathetically and attentively. Paremski set quite a drivingly fast tempo for the finale, and she and Dausgaard generated a good deal of energy and open-hearted vigour that made a good contrast with the stormy nature of the first movement and the sad introspection of the second. Overall it was a very satisfying performance of the concerto, not by any means immaculately played by either soloist or orchestra, but entirely faithful to the spirit of the work.
Gone are the days, it seems, when conductors linger romantically in Schubert’s “Great” C major Symphony. In the opening movement Dausgaard struck a good balance in that he set tempi that were quite rapid, but at the same time he ensured that the music had time to breath and rhythms had engaging buoyancy. The old traditional slowing down for interpretative “points” was thrown away in favour of a more classical, structured approach. The first movement exposition was repeated. Again, Dausgaard contrived a balanced basic tempo for the Andante, one which brought springiness and a nice lilt to the rhythms but at the same time allowed phrases to be nicely shaped. In the Scherzo, Dausgaard’s penchant for taking every possible repeat did seem a little overdone, for although the playing was bracing enough the continued alternation of scherzo and trio sections became somewhat monotonous. The finale, too, was quite a long, repetitious journey. What we heard was of good quality, but perhaps there was just a little too much of it.