MSO’s Mozart and Elgar: an evening that rings long in the memory

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Hamer Hall, September 19

Pianist Paul Lewis.Credit:Kaupo Kikkas

For this lop-sided concert, a change in content saw British pianist Paul Lewis exercising his supple skill on Beethoven’s C minor Concerto, a performance of exceptional interpretive breadth and an informed, calm assurance that rang in the memory long after the performers had left the stage. Not that Lewis is a self-effacing artist, but he exemplifies an essential musical truth: it’s not all about me. His work gave an object lesson in matching an interpretation to the composer’s requirements: taking the leading role when appropriate and knowing when to be subservient to orchestral lines.

In this interplay, Lewis displayed a remarkable gift for unveiling colour, nowhere better than in this concerto’s central Largo where powerful statements alternate with subtle filigree, tellingly realised by this artist better known here for his intense, focused recitals. With conductor-pianist Ryan Wigglesworth, Lewis opened the night with a meticulous, polished account of Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos. Best served by experienced duos, this score made its buoyant points on Thursday thanks to a generally helpful MSO with a hefty wind choir supporting soloists who didn’t put a foot wrong: uniform block chords, excellently accomplished detailing, balanced dynamic output. The only missing factor was humour, particularly in the bounding finale.

Wigglesworth gave his forces plenty of scope in Elgar’s Enigma Variations, encouraging the brass to power through big climaxes, then exposing viola, clarinet and cello solos above hushed support. Apart from everything else, this score is an orchestral display piece if, on this night, not much else.

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