Prom 53: Lausanne CO / Zacharias, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Christian Zacharias directing Mozart concertos from the keyboard has long been a must-hear. Zacharias doing the same for Schumann and Chopin was an intriguing enough prospect to draw a packed house.

Christian Zacharias directing Mozart concertos from the keyboard has long been a must-hear. Zacharias doing the same for Schumann and Chopin was an intriguing enough prospect to draw a packed house.

He has gradually extended his conducting career and since 2000 has been the music director of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, a small, polished band that came with him for this Proms appearance. But, like Barenboim and Ashkenazy, he has kept his piano artistry up to scratch, and he played with all the refinement and responsiveness that make him a treat for orchestras to work with.

Most Romantic concertos are a drama enacted between soloist and orchestra: they need a separate conductor to personify the interaction of personalities. Zacharias chose two that, for opposite reasons, break the rule. Schumann's is all about conversations between musicians, and its inward-looking nature defeats performers who treat it as a showpiece. Playing with his back to the audience so that he could have maximum contact with other players, Zacharias turned it into chamber music, a giant-sized equivalent of Schumann's quartets and quintet.

The atmosphere was so intimate, the interaction so close, that the quietest moments created a compelling intensity. This was in spite of some unusual pacing; Zacharias seemed to be trying to show that the opening movement could go all at one speed, which gave great vivacity to the themes and real charm to the woodwind solos, but was doomed to fail when the busy texture forced a slowdown. A heavy-handed approach to syncopation in the finale - the strings had a better idea - fatally interrupted its momentum twice over.

In Chopin's concertos, the piano is so dominant that the orchestra has little to do except to make beautiful background noises. There's no denying the showpiece element, and it would have been fairer if Zacharias had worked side-on: he looked as if he was hiding.

That said, No 2 sounded absolutely right. To the fluency that distinguishes his Mozart, Zacharias added an idiomatic ebb and flow and a brooding emotional character. The main exception to self-effacement for the orchestra belongs to the principal bassoon, which has some of the highlights of its repertoire here. Dagmar Eise made full use of her opportunity with suave turns of phrase.

Conducting from the rostrum, Zacharias enclosed the concertos with a couple of bites at Dvorak. The Serenade for Strings was best when lyrical, otherwise well-behaved to a fault. A more relaxed mood emerged for a Slavonic Dance and a Legend, both from the wistful side of Dvorak; a deliciously downbeat end.

Booking: 020-7589 8212; www.bbc.co.uk/proms. Prom 53 online to Wednesday

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