Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3
Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet Suite No. 2
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
Stephen Barlow: Conductor
John Lill: Piano
WE sometimes fail to appreciate how startling and revolutionary some of Beethoven’s earlier works would have seemed at first hearing in the context of what had been heard before. Just as the rather neglected but innovative 2nd symphony is perhaps overshadowed from our perspective by the revolutionary Eroica symphony that followed it, so the 3rd Piano concerto, while not remotely a neglected work, is rather in the shade of the lyrical 4th and barnstorming 5thconcertos.
It was the 3rd concerto that John Lill chose to play on his regular annual visit to the Lighthouse. Now 75, Lill has been a regular soloist with the BSO for as long as most of the audience can remember, and his visits are always keenly anticipated. Stephen Barlow set a rather steady plod in the orchestral opening, hardly an allegro and certainly not con brio. This was clearly going to be a performance that foregrounded the lyrical rather than dramatic qualities of the music. Lill is the most unflashy of soloists, barely moving except for his arms below the elbows. In the extended cadenza, with Lill in complete control, the music took flight, and the atmosphere in the hall shifted from routine enjoyment to wonder at Lill’s enduring excellence as a solist. Barlow’s slow tempi came into their own in the superb slow movement, with Anna Pyne’s flute and later Tammy Thorn’s bassoon taking centre stage with Lill as the most sensitive of accompanists. The finale, full of originality and expansiveness, was given full value, rounding off an ultimately very satisfying performance.
The concert had begun with Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, a piece for 23 strings written in Germany in 1945 as the country was being destroyed around him. It is understandably sombre in tone, but not unvaryingly so. Is this a rare example of Strauss writing pure, abstract music that wasn’t ‘about’ anything extra-musical, I wondered? Or did the insistent quotation from the funeral march in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony signal that, as Beethoven became disillusioned with Napoleon, at some level this also referred to a fallen leader who betrayed his countrymen? The BSO’s string players, playing as an outsized chamber ensemble rather than an orchestra, gave a very persuasive performance, with leader Amyn Merchant prominent and sweet-toned throughout.
After the interval we enjoyed the sight of a packed platform teeming with reinforcements lining up for a performance of Prokofiev’s popular and accessible Romeo and Juliet Suite No.2. This far into the Karabits reign the BSO have Russian music in their very bones, and they produced a colourful and dramatic reading under the secure direction of conductor Stephen Barlow.