Piemontesi plays Mozart’s Last Piano Concerto: Reviewed

Andrew Manze, Francesco Piemontesi and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra delivered on every count at their captivating concert on Wednesday night. Trying to be systematic about reviewing it, I had brought a notebook and attempted to studiously take down my thoughts, but by about halfway through I realised that my pen had stopped writing after scrawling the word “incredible” halfway down the page.

Credit: Matthew McIlree

The structure of the concert was well thought out, I found, with the audience being introduced to a little more of the orchestra and its abilities at each piece. We began with the core strings playing Stravinsky’s Concerto in D. The touted versatilities of the conductor and section was very much on show here, with Manze’s energetic and full-bodied conducting style following the “angular” contours of the piece, and the players managing to capture the essence of wind-like and percussive sounds using only plucking and bow strokes. I was pleasantly surprised by the middle movement; it had lyrical and almost dance-like quality that served as a reminder that Stravinsky’s style for the piece was still very much Neo-Classical. He had not quite fully assumed the modernist firebrand status that we probably associate with him now.

This fact allowed the flow from Stravinsky to Mozart feel like a natural complement rather than being jarring or stark. The orchestra grew in size to include woodwind and French horns, and we were finally introduced to our soloist and the piano.

The Younger Hall is very lucky to have an incredible Bösendorfer imperial grand piano at its disposal; an enormous machine with an extended bass octave, vast dynamic range and a rich sound. The flipside of this, of course, is that it makes it very difficult to play properly “authentic” Mozart. Considering the size and sound of pianos available in Mozart’s time, the experience is comparable to driving down a cycle track in a monster truck. Piemontesi, however, took what I think was the right decision, and fitted his interpretation to the instrument, and not vice versa. The Mozart we heard was not a transportation back to a bygone era, but rather a continuation of the living musical experience with faithful ideas and modern apparatus. Our pianist’s runs and slight extemporisations were flamboyant when necessary, restrained when tasteful, and the power of the piano’s bass and sustain pedal were not shunned but taken advantage of, sparingly, to great effect. My only disappointment was that he did not give an encore, despite the substantial applause at the end.

Credit: Wikipedia

Finally, we heard Stenhammer’s “Serenade”, somewhat deceptively titled, since it turned out to be a very hefty symphonic work. The wind section and brass sections, now expanded to full-size, were able to shine here, along with percussionists making an appearance for the first time that evening. The dexterity evident in the energetic rhythms of the first movement, and musicality of the various solos in the fourth were particularly enjoyable aspects to hear.

In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed this concert, as well as the hospitality afforded by the music centre at the free interval drink. It was somewhat sad, however, to see a relatively small number of students (and younger people in general) attending. If you didn’t make it, be sure not to miss out next time!

Credit: Scottish Chamber Orchestra

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