The LSO’s Beethoven symphony cycle with Sir John Eliot Gardiner has unfolded leisurely over a three year period.Having been enthusiastic in my praise for his performances of the 4th and 7th last year, I’d been looking forward to the 6th for a long time.However it was Maria Joao Pires’ introspective reading of the 2nd Piano Concerto that really took the breath away in what was an outstanding concert.
As one Beethoven cycle starts (the OAE at the Southbank), the LSO’s under John Eliot Gardiner concluded with bracing performances of three very distinct works by the composer. Beginning with the Egmont Oveerture it soon became clear that this was going to be an evening of music making on an exalted level. The strings had due gravitas and despite the fact that the members of the LSO were playing modern instruments, vibrato was kept to a minimum, allowing the performance to bear all the beneficial hallmarks of period style.
Although the Piano Concerto No 2 in B flat major is the least performed of all Beethoven’s piano concertos, and incidentally the first to be written, it received such a spell-binding account from Portuguese virtuoso Maria Joo Pires that its neglect became all the more baffling. Stylistically it hearkens back to Mozart and given Pires’ total command of the idiom and wonderfully dextrous playing the overall result was overwhelming. She’s a tiny pianist but gave a big performance and was rightly awarded an ovation. For an encore she delivered a sublime, introspective account of Scarlatti’s Sonata in A K218. Rumour has it that she is going to retire from public performance next year, so catch her while you can.
After the interval Gardiner and the LSO treated us to a boisterous reading of Symphony No 6 ‘Pastoral’. Again there was a great sense of period style and forward momentum that meant this most bucolic of symphonies was allowed to brim over with an unbridled sense of joy. The playing from all sections of the orchestra was without fault, and proved a fitting climax to what has been a revelatory cycle of the composer’s symphonies.