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At Tanglewood, Paul Lewis, Nelsons and the BSO enthral with a whole cycle of Beethoven piano concertos – Seen and Heard Worldwide


United States Tanglewood 2022 [5]: Paul Lewis (piano), Boston Symphony Orchestra / Andris Nelsons (conductor), Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, (CSa)

Andris Nelsons conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra © BSO

29.7.2022

Julia Adolphe – Makeshift Fort
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat; Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor

30.7.2022

Caroline ShawPunctum, for String Orchestra
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No.1 in C; Piano Concerto No.4 in G

31.7.2022

Elizabeth Ogonek Staring Variations
Farrenc – Symphony No.3 in G minor
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat Emperor 

One of many highlights of this 12 months’s Tanglewood season was a efficiency of every of Beethoven’s 5 piano concertos. They had been performed over the course of an extended, sizzling weekend by acclaimed British pianist Paul Lewis and the Boston Symphony Orchestra beneath their principal conductor Andris Nelsons. For Lewis, who celebrated his fiftieth birthday final Might, and who recorded all the cycle in 2010 for Harmonia Mundi and carried out it on quite a few events since then. Beethoven’s piano works, and particularly these concertos, symbolize a central a part of his repertoire. Accomplished in a relatively quick time-frame, 1798-1809, they chart the composer’s artistic journey from the elegant late eighteenth-century classical conventions of Haydn and Mozart to the revolutionary and turbulent musical world of early nineteenth-century Romanticism. Every concerto, distinctive in itself, imposes immense and more and more technical and interpretative calls for on the pianist. So, listening to all of them briefly succession offers the listener an unparalleled alternative not solely to mirror on Beethoven’s evolutionary improvement as a composer, but additionally to guage the craft and artistry of the performer.

Lewis, who has been described as one the world’s biggest exponents of Beethoven’s keyboard works, didn’t disappoint. At every live performance, Lewis’s efficiency was characterised by mental rigour, intelligence, sensitivity, and delicate shifts of color. These qualities had been mixed with what can solely be described as a stunning however unflamboyant approach. Aside from the odd flourish of the precise hand on the completion of a musical phrase, Lewis’s solely bodily response to the music was mirrored on his face – his forehead furrowed and eyes closed throughout moments of intense focus, or a raised eyebrow and a smiling look in the direction of the conductor after a very playful passage. Nelsons, for his half, coaxed and formed the orchestra’s finely balanced response, eliciting distinctive enjoying from each part.

The primary half of Friday night time’s live performance centred on Beethoven’s Concerto No.2 in B-flat, whose origins and publication preceded his Concerto No.1 in C by some 5 years.  The B-flat Concerto was premiered in Vienna in 1795, when the composer was solely 25 years outdated. Though Beethoven didn’t regard it as one among his greatest works, Lewis captured its youth and vitality, giving a sublime rendition, harking back to his mentor and former trainer Alfred Brendel. The Mozartian first motion, marked Allegro con brio, was performed with the utmost delicacy, and included a fantastically executed cadenza written by Beethoven in 1809. Lewis gave a most tender and free-flowing studying of the lyrical Adagio, shifting seamlessly to the third motion and a dramatic change of temper, a fast-moving and playful Rondo, which supplied Lewis free rein to reveal his supreme virtuosity and impish sense of humour.

The second half featured Concerto No. 3 in C minor, accomplished and showcased with Beethoven on the keyboard in Vienna in 1803. Whereas Mozart’s lengthy shadow nonetheless hovers over the piece, Beethoven’s distinct voice has by this time emerged extra clearly.  After a darkish, march-like, orchestral introduction wherein the regular drum-beat of Napoleonic conflict could be heard, Lewis made a robust and passionate entry, alternating exquisitely with the orchestra, earlier than launching with unerring accuracy right into a Beethoven cadenza of astonishing complexity. Ending in a storm of notes, the primary motion offers technique to an Adagio which, within the phrases of Beethoven’s scholar Carl Czerny, ‘should sound like a holy, distant and celestial concord’. In Lewis’s palms, the opening melody was merely heart-rending, offering a number of moments for personal reverie, earlier than the unbridled merriment and exultant laughter of the ultimate Rondo. 

Andris Nelsons conducts Paul Lewis (piano) and the BSO © Hilary Scott

Saturday night time supplied Piano Concertos No.1 in C, and No.4 in G, which had been carried out by Lewis with distinctive magnificence and dexterity.  Lewis switched effortlessly between majesty and whimsy within the first concerto’s opening Allegro con brio and gave us a dreamily contemplative Andante. The ultimate Rondo, a scampering, helter-skelter journey of pianistic brilliance, was flawlessly delivered. After the interval got here Concerto No.4. Lewis has spoken on a lot of events of the fragility and elusiveness of this concerto, which of the 5 can be his favorite. He describes it as a ‘darkish canvas onto which is projected a small however slowly increasing beam of sunshine – a door via which the participant enters’. Performed by Beethoven for the primary time at a four-hour public live performance in 1808, the unique programme additionally noticed the premieres of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. The size of the occasion definitely testifies to the outstanding cultural urge for food of Viennese audiences of the day, however extra importantly, the inclusion of two of his biggest works signifies the extent of Beethoven’s musical and stylistic evolution inside a relatively quick time-frame. The Fourth Piano Concerto is yet one more manifestation of Beethoven’s genius. From the primary tentative chords of the Allegro moderato (replete with the pianist’s personal cadenza) to the aching vulnerability of the sluggish motion, to the ebullience of the finale, Lewis’s mastery was awe-inspiring.

Piano Concerto No.5 in E, the Emperor, topped Sunday afternoon’s live performance. Lewis’s heroic opening thrives contrasted dramatically with the hymn-like Andante, which he performed with such deep depth that even the birds nesting excessive up within the Shed’s rafters appeared to fall silent. The ultimate Rondo was nothing lower than a triumphant dance whose closing bars drew rapturous applause from a standing viewers.

These live shows additionally included the premieres of latest works by three American composers, and all had been lately commissioned by the BSO. The primary, Makeshift Fort by Julia Adolphe, commenced Friday night time’s live performance. The piece, Adolphe defined, explored ‘contrasting states of permanence and ephemerality, of perseverance and disintegration, of willpower and give up’. Refined orchestration was used to conjure up a always altering, eerily bleak and disquieting musical panorama. Adolphe confronted the viewers with a dystopian imaginative and prescient of a post-Covid, war-torn and globally warmed planet wherein mankind’s survival may not be assumed. This was a far cry from the optimism of the Enlightenment, and Beethoven’s immutable perception that via music, the human spirit can surmount any impediment. This was the explanation maybe, for presenting these diametrically opposed works in the identical programme.

The second piece, Punctum by Caroline Shaw, prefaced Saturday night time’s live performance. Scored for strings, the composition was, as she put it, ‘an train in nostalgia’. Impressed by Bach’s St Matthew Ardour (the nice opening choral was truly referenced), Shaw additionally drew on Elgar with unmistakable hints of his Introduction and Allegro, Vaughan Williams, and even Tippett, to evoke a pastoral, idealised and really English musical panorama.

‘Trying up on the sky’ was the central theme of Elizabeth Ogonek’s Starling Variations, which marked the primary half of Sunday afternoon’s live performance. The piece – a set of 5 humorous variations – makes use of a brilliant palette of musical shifting patterns of sound and evocative orchestration to depict the totally different flight patterns or murmurations of birds as they transfer in a single giant mass throughout the sky.

Starling Variations was swiftly adopted by a not often heard work by a bit identified French feminine composer, Louise Farrenc. Her Symphony No.3 in G minor, one other first for the BSO, proved to be potpourri of short-lived themes unfold over 4 conventional actions. Composed in 1847, Farrenc was clearly influenced by a lot of mid-nineteenth century composers, most noticeably Felix Mendelssohn, who died within the 12 months this symphony was written, and whose ghost haunts the piece. The symphony is properly constructed and simple on the ear, however Farrenc had but to search out her personal voice. Hardly shocking, since ladies may examine piano efficiency on the Paris Conservatoire, as Farrenc did, however weren’t but permitted to check composition on a proper foundation. Non-public classes probably helped her to beat among the many obstacles that then lay within the path of girls composers in Europe. One wonders what Farrenc may need been able to writing had she been afforded the identical freedoms and privileges as her male counterparts.

Chris Sallon

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