CBSO/Nelsons review – a dazzling five-star Dvořák

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Andris Nelsons handled the vast canvas of the Piano Concerto magnificently, while Stephen Hough made light work of the challenging central part

Dvořák composed three concertos, and the earliest of them, for piano, has always been the poor relation. But while it lacks the epic dimension of his work for cello and orchestra, and the undemanding tunefulness of the one for violin, the Piano Concerto certainly doesn’t deserve the neglect it has suffered. At least two great pianists – Sviatoslav Richter and Rudolf Firkušný – championed and recorded it magnificently, but in Britain performances are rare, perhaps because, despite criticisms that the solo part is not showy enough, the work is still a considerable challenge to play. But Stephen Hough has taken the trouble to learn it, and played it for the first time with Andris Nelsons conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony. It was dazzling.

The Piano Concerto lasts almost 40 minutes, but never feels like a work on a symphonic, Brahmsian scale. There’s no great contest between soloist and orchestra, and instead it seems to hark back to classical models, to Mozart and early Beethoven, with themes that are generally charming rather than overwrought. Hough certainly made it seem the most attractive music in the world, making light of the more strenuous moments in the opening Allegro, adding silvery filigree to the Grieg-like passages in the slow movement, and steadily increasing the showiness of the finale. His Hyperion recording, taken from the Symphony Hall performances, should be a treat.

Nelsons followed the concerto with Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. He and the orchestra very much emphasised the score’s darkness and introspection, and in a work that can sometimes be smothered in sentimentality, there was never a hint of indulgence. The first movement was positively combative, the scherzo explosive, and even the long-limbed, languorous clarinet tune in the Adagio, elegantly played by Oliver Janes, had a sense of purpose about it. Nelsons handles such vast orchestral canvases magnificently, conceiving them as a single irresistible span, yet still managing to make sense of every bit of detail along the way.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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