City Halls, Glasgow December 3rd, 2014
There were a couple of late changes to the programme for this concert – the more significant being the appearance of Olari Elts as conductor for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO), replacing Robin Ticciati, who was unwell. Then there was the perfectly apt substitution of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Op 62 for Webern’s brief Symphony Op 21, with its serial tone row permutations. As it turned out, Elts’ performance was a bravura one, and the inclusion of the Coriolan gave the audience a programme which exactly paralleled the original première of all three main Beethoven pieces – adding the Piano Concerto No 4 in G, Op 58 and his Symphony No 4 in B Flat, Op 60 – which were first performed at a private concert for Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz in March 1807.
The Estonian conductor took control of the Coriolan in good style, and the SCO’s handling of the interplay between the two main themes, one more aggressive, one tender, set us up for more intricate extensions of sharply contrasting moods in the two longer pieces that followed. At one point I wondered if the chamber orchestra’s resources might be adequate for the big acoustic space of City Halls; but with some augmentation of the strings for the concerto and symphony this concern was set aside.
The performance of the Swiss-Italian, Francesco Piemontese in the 4th Piano Concerto was impressive from the outset. Never showy, he appeared relaxed throughout, emphatic when called for, and his tonal control was always attractively aligned with the SCO’s responsive playing. Beethoven’s idiosyncracies come through – critics have pointed to an almost improvisational style, with bold shifts in various aspects – key, tonic, dynamic – all of which the soloist, conductor and orchestra conveyed with spirit: from slow emergence and fluttering hesitation and embellishment to free-flowing, radiant energy. That old rascal, Castiglione used the word sprezzatura to describe “an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them”. Castiglione had scheming courtiers in mind; but this fine word for skill applied with apparent nonchalance catches Piemontesi’s playing precisely.
When the pianist returned for an encore, he happily teamed with the SCO guest leader Shunske Sato to give a restrained and sensitive rendering of (I think – my memory’s playing tricks!) the 2nd movement – adagio molto espressivo – of Beethoven’s Sonata no 5 for piano and violin. Anyway – a fine adagio duet. The 4th Symphony paced sweetly and slowly in, and then shifted to the suddenly contrasting elements we were by now expecting: sustained solemnity broken with crashing chords and hints of menace, pianissimo passages, sunny and cheery vitality, premonition, uncertainty, followed by another headlong tilt. The second movement opens with a lovely, dying fall: here and throughout all the orchestral sections and Adrian Bending on the kettle drums, were especially effective. he raised tempi in the third and fourth movements seemed to suit Elst; the mix of charm and sombre recollection, rich tones moving into something more restive – though still carrying – were freshly conveyed. For the close, everything was exerted: the chase went from sanguine to discordant, from hectic to clear determination. But whatever was being pursued, we were carried right along – and never lost sight of it. FOUR STARS
Reviewer : Mr Scales