Thursday, 22 August 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: Chetham's Piano Festival: Brahms Piano Concertos - The Stoller Hall, Manchester.


Brahms wrote only two piano concertos, the first when he was only 25, the second twenty-two years later. Thus these pieces reflect an early and late period of his compositional maturity.

Both of these gargantuan concertos were offered in two separate concerts this evening, with Murray McLachlan performing the first and Eugen Indjic the second, both accompanied by the Stockport Symphony Orchestra under Stephen Threlfall. Each concerto lasts fifty minutes making them of the longest concertos of the Romantic period.

McLachlan’s opening notes, after the orchestral introduction, floated magically off the piano giving a striking and passionate opening statement. This first concerto rises and falls in intensity quite quickly throughout and McLachlan mastered these stormy fluctuations with perfection, but I must say that the Stockport Symphony Orchestra simply lacked power and direction in both symphonies and at times were a hindrance to the pianist.

In particular, two important instrumental solos were disastrously played – the horn solo in the first symphony and the cello solo in the second. These are very important solo parts in terms of the interaction between the soloist and the solo piano and also have structural importance but unfortunately both soloists were out of tune for large sections. I don’t normally like to dwell on negatives – mistakes are inevitable in live music – but at £27 a ticket and with more than a few winces and head shaking from audience members I feel it is important to point out that with such high expectation around these symphonies it was disappointing that pianists of such high calibre were so weakly accompanied. These were not simply mistakes on part of the soloists – they could not play their parts at all. Apart from the soloists, the orchestra in general lacked energy, force and power that was necessary for these works.

Nevertheless, McLachlan provided an impressive an emotive performance.

After a needed break, Eugen Indjiic wowed us with Brahms’ second piano concerto. Indjiic was a child prodigy having first played this concerto with the Washington National Symphony Orchestra aged 13. He was a student of Leonard Bernstein who described him as “a world class pianist of rare musical and artistic perfection”. This was clearly demonstrated with a forceful performance. This symphony is structurally different from Brahms’ first, is melodically more fluid and harmonically shows a deepening maturity with elements that are easily found in the music of Rachmaninov.

These were all perfectly expressed by Indjiic who made the performance of this concerto seem effortless. It was such a shame that his expressive and masterful performance was not matched by the Stockport Symphony Orchestra.

The audience were enthralled by Indjiic from the start and he did not disappoint. After a breathtaking final movement finale, Indjiic was applauded so much that he took four bows. As the audience did not stop applauding, he provided an encore of three pieces from the romantic period. The Stoller Hall was completely hushed during this bonus performance and it was a sheer delight to hear Indjiic perform.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 18/8/19

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