With more than half of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra getting the night off following a pair of taxing, large-repertoire programs (cross-reference below) the delighted full house was treated to a chamber orchestra evening with works from three masters.
Pulling everything together was guest conductor Ton Koopman. His inner fountain of joy for the music and endless enthusiasm for those making it with him (much more a cooperative collaboration than demanding-maestro/subservient-musicians relationship) filled the hall with a compelling mix of jolliness (in the best Papa Haydn tradition) and elegance.
Marvellously, the first notes from Mozart heard here in 2010 (Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, K. 482) featured the very special talents of Kristian Bezuidenhout who has a similar love for every bar (whether the clarinet-infused orchestral tuttis or the ever-inventive solo part—there was a meeting of musical minds that produced a magical performance). Not surprisingly, therefore, the piano/orchestra ensemble was the best thus far in Lucerne; with too few miscues to bother recording, the sense of oneness, purpose and care permeated every phrase.
Bezuidenhout has found the rarest of pianistic treasures: a touch that enables seamless legato in all registers and the courage (happily—it’s wanted in the music) to deliver arid-dry staccati. If a key element of the classical style is balance, then surely short-and-long should be at the beck and call of any musician delving into that repertoire.
The pianist’s own cadenza spoke volumes about his deep understanding of Mozart’s imagination, employing threads from the themes, a bit of whimsy and dramatic sense that wisely realized that less is always more.
When the final arrow finds its way into his quiver (more leading weight for key cadential moments and subtle harmonic shifts) then Mozart will have a worthy advocate assuredly able to carry the torch of playing that not only delivers the requisite notes but in a manner that shows to all who choose to hear just why they are there.
The wonderfully understated, yet constantly moving-forward encore (“Andante Cantabile” from Piano Sonata No. 10 in C Major, K. 330) only made the ear eager for the rest.
Earlier, Bach’s D Major Suite began the small-ensemble festivities with brisk tempi (maintaining the pulse relationship between the opening “Grave” and ensuing “Vivace” was most especially welcome); the near note-perfect trumpets provided clarity and brilliance. Why the harpsichord was placed on the edge of the stage instead of amongst the strings will forever remain a mystery: the cembalo part was more seen than heard.
The strings-only “Air” (at one with the Festival’s Eros theme even as Haydn’s coming “Adagio” would sublimely express his love for the recently-departed Mozart) suffered from a tad of affectation in the gentle slurs. More curious/frustrating still was the ever-affable conductor’s penchant to simply stop his hands at major phrase-endings and let his charges finish the job. Like Mariss Jansons only the night before, when any conductor’s sculpting of sound ends, the bottom falls out of the result.
Finishing the printed program (Handel’s “La Réjouissance” from the Music for the Royal Fireworks Suite brought the third trumpet back to his stand for a zesty reading that incited the crowd to beg for more), Haydn’s B-flat Major Symphony zipped by in a joyous flash.
The quibble bin has been abandoned in favour of a simple, heartfelt thanks to Koopman and his gallant musicians. When he sat down at the keyboard to personally add Haydn’s last colourful surprise, the room beamed from stem to stern—grateful to have shared in so much contagious fun. JWR