Beethoven, Mozart, R. Strauss, Brahms
I did not think anyone could make that old Steinway piano in the Khachaturian Hall sound good. Tonight, Aleksei Lubimov somehow managed to do so, and everyone in the house knew it. The Moscow-trained pianist lifted Mozart’s Piano Concerto #27 out from the instrument, where it must have been hiding for decades. The Armenian Philharmonic – or a chamber group of orchestra musicians, including recognizably some of the students I heard perform on Wednesday – gave him the accompaniment he needed, but otherwise stayed out of his way. He spoke Mozart’s idiom, and the orchestra understood.
After a rhythmic applause, Lubimov returned for an encore – a sonata from the late classical or early romantic repertory that was not a showpiece but which had suitable embellishments and could showcase his pure musicality. When the audience would not let the second round of applause die down, Lubimov returned for another similar encore. He had no need to be flashy when he was so musical. The piano really is not that good these days, but he restored it as much as possible to its former glory.
On the podium tonight, Stefan Willich brought an unusual personal subplot. Willich is actually a German cardiologist (who also trained and later taught at Harvard) who conducts as a hobby. He founded the World Doctors Orchestra, to bring together musician-doctors to give charity concerts. So he is used to conducting amateur orchestras. The Armenian Philharmonic is better than amateur, but normally sounds lost without its principal conductor Eduard Topchjan. Willich managed to keep everyone mostly together, and when they played together they sounded rather reasonable. I think the youth movement also helped, as the Youth Orchestra has sounded better than the adult one.
The concert opened with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, in a solid if not quite dramatic reading. After the Mozart concerto and the intermission, Wagner’s Meistersinger Overture disappeared from the program – perhaps Willich could not keep them together in rehearsal. Death and Transfiguration by Richard Strauss remained, and where they stayed together they managed the chromatics. As an encore, perhaps to complete a program by substituting for the Wagner, the orchestra played a spirited and sweeping Hungarian Dance #1 by Brahms – nothing special in this piece, so they actually sounded quite fine. Probably a wise substitution.