After the previous evening’s magnificent reconfirmation of music as our most universal art, it would be difficult for anything to even come close to the combined artistry of Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis (cross-reference below).
But nothing could prepare the way for perhaps the most disappointing piano/orchestra collaboration heard in many years as Hélène Grimaud and Esa-Pekka Salonen attempted to find the art in Schumann’s only piano concerto.
From the first mighty chords it was clear there would be little to savour. Ensemble was often ragged as Grimaud ventured into this exceptional musical terrain determined to conquer the notes at best. Most of them did appear but neither she nor Salonen got close to basic poetry music less the richly-emotional subtext.
Much of the “Allegro vivace” sounded like a first reading with a student orchestra rather than a polished performance worthy of the Lucerne Festival.
The program began with a similarly pedantic walkthrough of Schumann’s Overture to Genoveva. Its general untidiness foreshadowed the rest of the music as did the less than spectacular interventions from the French horns.
After the break, Salonen served up a workmanlike performance of the Four Legends from Kalevala that must have had Sibelius and former Philharmonia maestros (notably Otto Klemperer and Sir Adrian Boult) squirming uncomfortably in their graves. The famous “Swan of Tuonela”—without baton—had more out-of-sync ensemble problems than the other three. Jill Crowther’s English horn solos had great tone but little depth (especially having just heard Ruth Visser with the Concertgebouw—cross-reference below); it fell to principal cellist Tim Walden to make the most memorable contributions of what turned out to be a sad evening with his stellar solo lines.
Unintentionally, Waltz Triste summed up the preceding two hours with great irony (not dissimilar to its last “recall” with the Sydney Symphony).
Ah well, tomorrow is another day. JWR