Sunday, 12 October 2008

Paul Lewis returns with more Beethoven

One of the highlights of the 2005/6 and 2006/7 seasons was Paul Lewis's superb series of concerts traversing the complete sonatas of Beethoven at the Queen's Hall (as well as the Wigmore Hall in London and one or two other locations). The results can be heard in his superb and contemporaneous CD recordings.

He is now embarking on a recorded survey of the concertos, before returning to the solo piano works with the Diabelli Variations. Infuriatingly, his appearance with the RSNO is one of those that the orchestra was unable to reschedule for Edinburgh, this necessitated a trip to Glasgow and my first visit to the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

It nearly wasn't to be: unbeknownst to me, repairs caused a diversion down a branch line and it was much tighter to get to the concert hall than I expected. The hall itself is very nice, the wood look is actually very similar to the furnishing of the City Halls, though the shape is not shoebox but almost in the round. It is also much newer than might be expected and given we had one of the preeminent Beethoven pianists of the day it was rather less full than might be expected.

My eagle eyes couldn't help but notice a microphone. I had hoped that Deneve's speaking was purely an opening concert thing. Unfortunately it seems this is a habit and an infuriatingly pointless one. He talked for several minutes adding nothing the sum total of human knowledge, except that he likes audio guides in art galleries. I don't, and I don't like conductors talking unless they have something interesting to say and something beyond what is printed in the programme; it was difficult to fight the urge to yell out "shut up and play". It was the more baffling given he told us we could find out all about the works in advance online and in the programme and that we should do this. I had.

The concert began with Beethoven's Leonore III overture. The orchestra played well and the opening was taken quite slowly, and then tension could have been built and held a little more. When the main fast theme came in, Deneve took it much too fast, faster than his orchestra could keep up with. The solo flute, presumably Katherine Bryan, and offstage trumpet were very well done. The sound of the hall, doubtless due to its shape, was a little dry, though certainly better than the Barbican.

Paul Lewis then came on to play Beethoven's second concerto, actually his first if one is being correct. It is probably my least favourite but with Lewis at the helm one mustn't quibble. Deneve chose a more sensible, middle of the road, pace and Lewis displayed the same mix of delicacy and weight when called for, though without needing to thump, that I have come to expect from his solo recitals. That said, the concerto doesn't provide quite the showcase for his talents that others, say the Emperor, would do, and which I will hear him perform with Davis and the LSO in June. He played the cadenzas particularly beautifully. The Glasgow audience didn't seem to appreciate him quite so much as we did in the Queen's Hall and for once we got no encore when I wouldn't have minded one. It is not clear with whom he is recording the concertos, though it is almost certainly not with what would be my preference: Mackerras and the SCO. The RLPO seems more likely, again a shame as I suspect Davis/LSO will be magical too.

After the interval it was Strauss all the way. First up was the suite from Der Rosenkavalier. Initially Deneve took it rather too fast but he found a wonderful beauty to the slower themes and the playing of the RSNO was suitably rich. That said, his reading did drag slightly in places. After this a number of people left, perhaps they were dashing to catch train or perhaps they incorrectly assumed that the concert was over, since Deneve in his talk had only mentioned one work for the second half, Till Eulenspiegel.

Deneve was clearly much more at home with the work's pranks and silliness. Indeed, thinking back to the Poulenc or this summer's Le Roi David, he is most at home at this end of the spectrum. He brilliantly brought to life the madness, frenzy and outlandishness of Strauss's score.

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