Saturday 28th March 2015 at 7.00pm
Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600
Andrew Manze conductor
Steven Osborne piano
Vaughan Williams: Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus 13′
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 28′ Listen on Spotify
Brahms: Symphony No. 2 45′
Steven Osborne’s encore –
Beethoven – ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata 29 – Second Movement
When Brahms went on holiday, all his troubles fell away – and that’s exactly the effect of his lovely second symphony, 45 minutes of glowing landscapes, jubilant trumpets and tunes that never seem to end. The very English serenity of Ralph Vaughan Williams is a gentle prelude to Beethoven’s most brilliant piano concerto, played today by one of Britain’s brightest keyboard stars.
Review by Hedy Mühleck, BachTrack (for matinee of the same programme)
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… “As it rose again, it was for a remarkable rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in B flat major. Whether it was actually Beethoven’s first, strongly influenced by Mozart’s style, or whether it was his second, showing the composer looking back to his hero, Steven Osborne captivated the personalities of both great composers in a sheer magical way. At no point were we aware that active interpretation was taking place, it was as if the music streamed from him in a natural flow, and only long afterwards did you notice how unobtrusively sophisticated phrasing was, or the shaping of dynamics.
Introduced with a strongly textured orchestral sound, Manze virtually threw little dynamic accents that the orchestra eagerly caught. Then Osborne entered with such a pleasantly soft attack I hadn’t thought possible on Symphony Hall’s terribly hard piano (which, it has to be said, also has its merits: Beethoven’s strong bass lines came out beautifully and carried well through the orchestra without becoming muddy). Osborne’s playing was simple, calm and thoughtful, matching Manze’s laid-back movements, making the dialogue-like alternating passages of piano and orchestra in the second movement so intensely focused you didn’t dare to breathe.
His noble reserve also suited the playful Rondo very well: no exaggerated mannerisms distracted from this pure performance, no dramatic movements accompanied those scales of notes like gleaming beads on strings that still threatened to burst with virtuosity. Even though the solo passages, especially in the beginning, struggled to connect seamlessly with the much richer and softer orchestral tissue (I blame it on the piano), the dynamic agility of both soloist and the orchestra made for an arresting last few bars, and the strong connection between conductor and soloist was tangible and gave the concerto developed a simple and natural charm so strong that not even several untidy cues in the orchestra could break its spell.” …
Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post (for matinee of the same programme)
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… “One can look past the Mozartian elements of the Adagio (easily done when there are no clarinets) and the hovering spirit of Haydn; in the right hands it’s a gem of a concerto by Beethoven at his most romantic.
At least that’s how Steven Osborne played it last Wednesday afternoon, in a performance that, while demonstrating many aspects of an historically informed reading in its elegant phrasing (conductor Andrew Manze engaged all his period-instrument experience to give appropriate weight and articulation of the orchestral support), allowed dynamic contrasts, especially crescendos and diminuendos, to sing with emotional meaning rather than just change volume.
The finale was a particular delight, its humour gently pointed with an almost tongue-in-cheek reticence, and a total avoidance of affectation or posturing (Lang Lang and others please note).” …