Concertgebouw / Chailly Barbican, London
Friday 31 March 1995
Still, come the scene-change, Chailly reappeared with a diminutive figure whose sparkling demeanour suggested a truant schoolgirl. Maria Joo Pires is a pianist's pianist whose wide keyboard vocabulary accommodates a generous expressive range. And of course Beethoven's Third Concerto is a minefield of potential pitfalls, especially in matters of balance and dialogue between soloist and orchestra. But this performance worked very well. Chailly drove a warm, fairly animated opening tutti, while Pires responded with impressive confidence and clean, forceful fingerwork. The cadenza too (Beethoven's own) boasted a wide catalogue of pianistic colours, and that magical moment when quiet string chords usher in the orchestra's return could hardly have been more sensitively handled. This and similar passages suggested the intimacy of chamber music, and if the closing Rondo went well (with plenty of playful badinage between pianist and orchestra), the Largo was something special.
Then came Ein Heldenleben, that maddeningly egocentric blend of genius and banality which Strauss dedicated to Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw. If Tuesday's performance is anything to go by, Chailly hasn't much to tell us about Strauss's hero that we don't already know. The opening "Hero" was properly sonorous (with marvellous lower strings), while the orchestral build-up towards "The Hero's Battlefield" gathered considerable momentum, but the climb-down lacked pathos and the close was a little hurried. Judged overall, it was a rousing, superficially impressive display. Yet I couldn't escape the suspicion that Chailly's heart wasn't in it.
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