The new concert season opened while I was in India, so this evening was my first. Pianist Herbert Schuch joined Riccardo Minasi and the Mozarteum Orchestra in the Great Festival House for two Beethoven concerti, followed after the break by Stravinsky‘s Rite of Spring.
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #2, actually his first in order of composition, was not a fully-developed work, and indeed came off unconvincing when Lang Lang and the Camerata under Manfred Honeck performed it at the Festival during the Summer. But perhaps they tried to do too much with it. Schuch, Minasi, and the Mozarteum took a much more reserved approach this evening, and while that did not improve the quality of the concerto (still a student experiment that Beethoven himself did not think very highly of), they did manage to make it lyrical and demonstrate the talent that this composer would use to bring music into the 19th century. All together, this performance exceeded the one at the Festival by every measure.
In contrast, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #5 may mark the absolute pinnacle of the Fach. These forces approached it similarly to how they did the second concerto, never trying to overwhelm anything, but now with far superior music. The orchestra highlighted substantial dance, with Schuch providing glistening tinkling to augment the delicate colors. Though not a robust performance, it worked well to demonstrate the composer’s development and consistency, even in contrast with his less-substantial earlier concerto.
Schuch provided an encore: a bagatelle by Beethoven, which he made look forward almost to a Strauß waltz. However, as a solo work, it left him exposed. The tingling technique did not succeed as well without the orchestra to provide some heft.
After the intermission, the orchestra showed its full colors with Stravinsky’s nutso ballet. The tone was all there, but one thing was missing: the ballet. Although quite a wild work, Stravinsky did intend performers to dance to it. Minasi coaxed all the right tones and complicated dissonance from the orchestra, which sounded amazing, but he made the sections too detached, and lost the flow even within sections. He is maturing as a conductor and should be applauded for his thoughtful programming, but he may not quite be there yet with some of this twentieth century music.