Mercurial Grace: Pires and the SCO Sparkle in a pair of Mozart Piano Concertos

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Dvořák, Mozart: Maria João Pires (piano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Robin Ticciati (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 26.1.2017. (SRT)

Dvořák – Legends, Op.59
Mozart – Piano Concertos Nos.23 & 27

The SCO are about the undertake a brief European tour under their principal conductor Robin Ticciati and their popular partner pianist Maria João Pires. And what a wonderful partner she is! This pair of Mozart piano concertos was utterly magical, benefiting from Pires’ graceful yet mercurial approach which lends itself so well to Mozart’s world. In the opening movement of No. 23, for example, the piano’s first entry seemed to steal in, as though apologetically, before developing into a singing tone of elegant confidence. Pires’ way with the second subject was especially graceful, and I loved the way her cadenza rippled rather than stormed, ending on a half-swallowed soft note that was utterly characteristic of her playing style. The slow movement, Mozart’s black pearl (as Wanda Landowska said of Bach’s darkest Goldberg Variation) was dark and thoughtful, with its keening winds and plangent strings, before a dance-like finale that was playful yet also restrained. The SCO strings played with just enough vibrato to give the music warmth, and that also helped with the mellow tone of the opening movement of No. 27, the strings ambling along while the winds almost danced. The outer movements of this concerto felt busy but also conversational, with enough space built in to enjoy the view on the way, and the slow movement, a gorgeous Song-Without-Words, seemed to hang still in mid-air, pared back to its barest essentials and daring to speak for itself.

Dvořák’s Legends made slightly unusual companions, however well they were played.  They’re redolent with the aromas of the composer’s homeland, something that came through in the golden horns and Bohemian-flavoured winds, and I liked the way the strings’ approach to the music could be either thin or warm, speaking of an individual approach to which a lot of thought had been given. All ten of them in one evening is a bit of a stretch, though; like reading an entire volume of short stories or consuming too much sorbet. For the tour Ticciati has curated his own suite of five, which I can imagine working rather better.

Simon Thompson

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