This concert made history: hot on the heels of his already acclaimed recordings of Beethovens five piano concertos, Paul Lewis has become the first artist to perform the complete set in a single Proms season. It was only natural to end with the Emperor, and Lewiss performance would have justified such a title to be conferred on him.
I found this perhaps the strongest partnership of the four the pianist has enjoyed this season: the understanding evident between Lewis and Denve was at its most effective in the Adagio, lovingly caressed, while the driving finale was utterly thrilling from the orchestra. Lewis was a mixture of grand and brooding, with ever-impeccable fingerwork, and if this performance seemed not quite as intense as his rendition of the fourth concerto (his admitted favourite), it was still sensational.
The other highlight of the evening was the London premiere of three interludes from James Macmillans opera The Sacrifice, based on one of the tales from the Welsh Mabinogion. Im surprised how different Macmillans dramatic persona can be from his religious and instrumental compositions, and the brutality of the fights and conflicts of these vignettes was shocking in its intensity, Macmillan employing the massed brass section to cut through the thickness of the strings. However, I felt that the three movements seemed somewhat adrift performed in isolation, and cant wait to hear them in the context of the whole opera.
The Beethoven and Macmillan were framed by two Rome-inspired works, Berliozs Roman Carnival Overture and Respighis Pines of Rome. While the bubbly and vivid Berlioz was an ideal opener, full of youthful fun and setting up the Beethoven nicely, I hoped that the RSNO might manage to convince me of the merits of the Respighi. However, that I left the hall still dissatisfied I ascribe not at all to Denve and his team: the shimmering quality of the strings was sublime, and the wind solos in particular were incisive and characterful. Respighi was a superb writer for orchestra, and Denve was excellent in eking out the details of the colourful score, as well as in controlling the powerful tutti finale.