This program started fairly poorly but made considerable improvement by the end of the concert.
English Chamber Orchestra leader José-Luis Garcia led the performance of Serenata notturna from his chair. None of the soloists (the principal strings) were up to the calibre of their counterparts from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra—in fact, the violist had a very difficult outing.
Overall, the string tone was abrasive. The ensemble was admirable yet there was precious little produced in the vital components of phrasing and shape—part of that stemmed from the reality that if you’re a conducting-soloist, then your mind is likely more on the tricky bits of the notes you are creating rather than the structural architecture and musical texture of the piece as a whole.
The gathering didn’t seem to be enraptured with what transpired as they “demanded” just a solitary curtain call.
Warm up complete, Murray Perahia stepped on stage and launched the incredibly crafted K. 452. He “sort of” conducted from the keyboard with his back to the audience. As a conductor, he’s a marvellous pianist. It was interesting to observe that when he dropped his conducting hands to morph into those of the skilled pianist, there was absolutely no difference in the result from the ECO, begging the question: Why “conduct” at all?
Nonetheless, Perahia played wonderfully, managing to coax the warmest tone out of the full-length Steinway heard thus far. He kept things moving forward but the ensemble, inevitably—he was busy!—was just a smidge ragged. I had the feeling that the exceptional performer can endure those blemishes as his compromise at having complete artistic control. (Conductors who aren’t “in sync” with their soloists create more drama than the composer could ever imagine—cross-reference below.)
Sadly, the subtleties of the piano/orchestra interplay were lost: everyone was just content to keep up.
Special mention must be made to the French horns who, although not playing Bruckner…, were nonetheless the most consistently accurate of any concert heard here in Lucerne.
The principal oboe produced a most engaging tone and worked especially hard to keep his wind-colleagues on the same page.
After intermission, we were treated to K. 595 and here I suppose everyone had relaxed a bit (this was ECO’s first appearance at this long-standing festival)—the unpleasant edge to the sound of the first-half vanished.
This performance, overall, was similar to the G Major offering. Situations such as getting in and out of cadenzas illustrate clearly why it would be ideal to have a competent maestro on the podium: on the way “in” it’s a tad tentative vis à vis the slight relaxation on the way out (after the trill over a 6/4-5/3 resolution) becomes a bit too pedantic. The patrons really enjoyed these piano concerti and, for a change, remained encore free. JWR