MUSIC / Emperor of the senses: Anthony Payne hears Michael Roll play Beethoven concertos, plus Jansons and the LSO at the Barbican

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The Independent Culture
Once in a while there is a concert of quite special quality, which transcends professional excellence. At the Barbican Centre last Saturday, Michael Roll joined forces with Howard Shelley and the London Mozart Players to give a Beethoven programme that consistently modified our perceptions of some of the repertory's most familiar music.

In the second of two programmes that presented all five piano concertos, Roll played the First and the Emperor. Here was a thorough test of a pianist's grasp of both the young keyboard lion's astonishingly original use of classical structures and the mature genius's Olympian extension of those structures. Both concertos were played with breathtaking freedom of expression. Roll constantly risked all to illuminate Beethoven's vision as if it were in the very act of being created, while Shelley, confirming his growing stature, urged his orchestra to respond in kind.

Rarely does one hear the second return of the First Concerto's rondo theme thrown off with such buoyancy: the high-lying keyboard texture was characterised by Roll with an individual weight of sonority that clearly revealed the many layers of Beethoven's joyousness.

Later, in a performance of the opening movement of the Emperor Concerto that daringly combined impetuosity with a moving grandeur of design, Shelley and the orchestra interacted with Roll in an almost chamber music-like community of spirit. The chiming brass subject that caps the first solo is usually little more than a predictable tutti. Here, however, it suggested the eruption of an idea which had been seething beneath the surface like molten lava awaiting release. The excitement generated by Roll's marvellously judged solo, taken at an unusually quick tempo, encompassed surface and subterranean activity, while Shelley and the orchestra crowned the process with their fire and impetus.

A similar level of professional excellence was present in two later Barbican concerts in which Mariss Jansons directed the London Symphony Orchestra. But there was a little less in terms of genuine artistic revelation. Kyung-Wha Chung, for instance, brought a starry presence to Bruch's Violin Concerto No 1 on Sunday, but seemed to apply her very considerable technique and infectious temperament from outside the music.

More affecting was Midori's challenging account of the Brahms Violin Concerto on Tuesday, where a richly grainy tone and uninhibited attack was used to illuminate the central core of the composer's lyric drama. Rarely can the first solo entry have been more commandingly delivered, or the opening of the first movement coda more exquistely gauged by soloist and orchestra.

This was the finest performance in either concert, although Jansons' rapport with the orchestra yielded fine playing on Sunday in Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste and Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe, and on Tuesday in the kind of Wagner excerpts we used to cherish, 'The Ride of the Valkyries', 'Siegfried's Funeral March' and more besides.

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