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The word “myth” can mean two things: 1) a tale expressing a universal truth and 2) a load of old cobblers. The latter has been more relevant to the Mozart year, because so many myths about the man and his music have been exposed. One is that his last piano concerto, K.595, was written in the final year of his life and therefore, ipso facto, expresses weariness and resignation – as if the 35-year-old composer was so “divine” that he had a premonition of death. There was no sign of it in Alexei Lubimov’s revelatory performance on Wednesday, with the OAE under Thomas Zehetmair.
Lubimov’s introductory statement, lavishly decorated, was too playful and poetic to carry overtones of romantic wistfulness – an impression confirmed by the dearth of tonal amplification in his pianoforte. Even the slow movement had its fair share of decorative trills. The finale positively tripped along, which it always should. A decade ago such a performance would have been dismissed as contrary to the music’s character. What we know now, thanks to research on the autograph score, is that Mozart began the work as early as 1788, at the height of his fortune and a long way from death.
It’s not that Lubimov’s playing lacked profundity, because it was profoundly musical, finding at every turn a more intimate dialogue with the accompanying figures than we usually hear. No, what we heard on this occasion was a creative response to the quasi-improvisatory spirit of the music and the age in which it was written.
The OAE’s concerts have developed into one of the South Bank’s biggest attractions, so it was only right that the orchestra took the limelight in Haydn’s Symphony No 31, which offered rich pickings for its principals, including a mini-concerto for double bass (Chi-chi Nwanoku). In Schubert’s Fourth Symphony the spotlight fell more on the inspirational Zehetmair, providing the sort of direction that releases everyone’s natural energy.
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