United Kingdom Beethoven, Mozart: Francesco Piemontesi (piano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Andrew Manze (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 04.02.2016 (SRT)
Beethoven: Overtures, Coriolan and The Creatures of Prometheus
Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 25 & 26
When you’ve got one of the world’s freshest, most exciting Mozart pianists on the evening’s billing, it’s a shame to waste him, and that was why nobody was complaining when we got not one, but two of Mozart’s late piano concertos tonight. Francesco Piemontesi has taken the classical music world by storm since coming to prominence only a few years ago, and in his debut with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra last season, I praised him for his sensitivity and delicacy. Those qualities were there in spades tonight. Piemontesi writes warmly of his partnership with the SCO in the programme note and, even allowing for the fact that it’s the sort of thing that any visiting soloist would say, you could sense a real symbiotic relationship between the soloist and orchestra.
Piano Concerto No. 25 is the triumphal climax of Mozart’s late concerto style, but this reading wore its majesty lightly, thanks mostly to Andrew Manze’s careful ear for detail and refusal to get bogged down, with a big sound that had air in the middle. Piemontesi allowed the piano to steal in gently at the beginning, treading delicately where others might storm, and throughout there was a beautiful tripping quality to his playing that seemed to suggest the joy of a new discovery, as if he was revelling in the beauty of this music for the very first time. He brought quiet intensity to the slow movement, offset by gorgeous playing from the orchestral winds, and throughout the finale, which was merry rather than forceful, the piano wove its way in and out of the orchestral texture like a partner rather than a hero. If the “Coronation” Concerto grabbed me slightly less then that’s because it’s a slightly less satisfying work (though only by Mozart’s very high standards), but the same quality of sound was there, thanks to Manze’s brisk tempi, a fresh, clean piano sound, and playing that was delicate and playful rather than conventionally festive. Piemontesi is the real deal when it comes to repertoire like this, and I hope we see a lot more of him in the future.
The two Beethoven overtures provided a bit of balance and symmetry, even if they felt slightly incidental. Coriolan was clean and neat, if lacking the nth degree of energy until the final run into the coda. Prometheus, on the other hand, was altogether more satisfying, its opening pregnant with anticipation, and then a scurrying main Allegro that never let up its energy for an instant.