The LPO on Top Form for Andrés Orozco-Estrada

29/10/2017

Beethoven and Shostakovich: Inon Barnatan (piano); London Philharmonic Orchestra / Andrés Orozco-Estrada. Royal Festival Hall, London, 27.10.2017. (CC)

Beethoven – Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73, ‘Emperor’

Shostakovich – Symphony No.7 in C, Op.60, ‘Leningrad’

Earlier in the same week, the LPO’s Principal Guest Conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducted a fascinating programme of Shostakovich, Vasks, Gregorian Chant and Rachmaninov (review).  There was more Shostakovich here, prefaced by Beethoven’s great ‘Emperor’ Concerto.

There was a time when the ‘Emperor’ seemed pretty much omnipresent on the London scene. It appeared to be everyone’s calling card; although not quite disappeared from the scene (how could it ever?), it seems to appear rather less these days. Step forward LPO debutant Inon Barnatan, who was to perform the same concerto with the orchestra again the following night at Brighton Dome. Barnatan was the first ever Artist in Association with the New York Philharmonic. He champions contemporary music and has featured music by Ronald Stevenson in his recitals as well as the likes of Pintscher, all of which speaks of a discerning mind; an Avie recording, Darknesse visible, its title taken from a piece by Adès, confirms this (review).

Perhaps nerves affected Barnatan’s accuracy, for there were decidedly splashy moments here, and the occasional note that refused to speak. Barnatan’s positives are that his fingerwork is hyper-clear (a real asset in the opening flourishes) and that he listens well to the orchestra -for example in the passage where Beethoven foregrounds woodwind solos against piano accompaniment. The negative is that his sound is rather light which can mean that at the higher levels his sound is rather over-metallic. Orozco-Estrada reaffirmed his credentials as accompanist throughout, and he shaped the opening of the central movement most affectionately. This central panel was by far the finest movement of the performance, with Barnatan fluidly lyrical, while in the finale the marriage of Barnatan’s finger clarity with the spirit of the piece led to a refreshingly zingy account, one graced with perfect octave trills. We nearly did not get an encore: at precisely the moment when the applause seemed primed to fizzle out, Barnatan returned, taking the opportunity to rattle off a fresh but again somewhat splashy finale to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in F, Op.10/2. Currently, Barnatan is recording the complete Beethoven concertos with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. He will return to the UK after a brief flit to Germany for a recital with cellist Alisa Weilerstein at the Wigmore Hall on November 2.

Shostakovich’s vast Seventh Symphony makes demands on players and audience alike, not least for the latter in surviving the sheer decibel onslaught. Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic gave a memorable performance at the Barbican in 2012 (review); and although I was not reporting on it, it is hard to erase memories of another Barbican performance, this time with the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Masur. This LPO South Bank performance was itself highly impressive. The determined opening was a straightforward, non-nonsense statement of intent. Defined, especially in the bass register, it led to a wide-ranging first movement that moved from the positively filmic to the utmost tenderness. Superb clarinet solos and the vast brass choir at the movement end are worthy of note.

Shostakovich’s grotesque side was highlighted in the second movement Allegretto (superb E flat clarinet solos from Thomas Watmough) and while the Adagio strained to find light, Orozco-Estrada consistently blocked it from doing so. Whirligig met parody met huge brass peroration in the finale; the enthusiastic reception was well deserved. It’s great to hear the LPO on top form under a conductor they clearly respect.

Colin Clarke

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