Melbourne Symphony Orchestra | Brahms and Dvořák
22 July 2023, Hamer Hall, Melbourne
Jaime Martín – conductor
Javier Perianes – piano
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15
DVOŘÁK Symphony No.6 in D, Op.60
“Favourite repertoire and composers”
The Brahms D minor piano concerto is one of the longest piano concertos of the 19th century and is symphonic in its conception both in its almost 50 minute length and organisation of thematic material. While this drama may suit modern audiences it was met with some confusion at the time as it did not fit the popular idea of the soloist par excellence doing dramatic battle with the orchestra in a competition of dialoguing adversaries. That being said, the opening with its dramatic long note of “D” in the bass (pedal note for the theorists) supported by the timpani overlaid with clashing harmonies provides plenty of dramatic tension. The dark intent of the work was captured very well by the orchestra.
Sitting in the middle of the stalls I was faced with a large concert grand with the conductor mostly invisible behind the piano. The soloist initially sat with his back to the audience, clearly involved with the orchestral prelude prior to the opening piano statement. Observing the different interactions with soloist and orchestra gives a clue to the approach to the work being played. In this case I found the piano was well integrated with the orchestra becoming a piece of the overall musical texture rather than a more egotistical approach. However when needed Perianes was able to deliver solos ranging in great strength of delivery to delicacy with refined playing. Having this wide range of sound to his musical palette was one of the great successes of this performance. I was stunned at the beauty of his controlled soft playing showing artistic delicacy within such a powerful work. From where I sat I had a clear view of his impeccably relaxed octave technique nevertheless providing impressive power and accuracy.
Some pianists like to delay the right hand melody notes slightly after the bass in the left hand and while I find this a useful expressive thing to do on occasion myself in highlighting particular melodies and phrases, I found that there was too much use of this feature throughout the work for my tastes, making it slightly irritating. I fully acknowledge however, that there are many who like this way of interpreting the music.
The sublime second movement with its warmth contrasts with the drama of the first movement and I particularly noted the exquisite and gentle clarinets’ theme in thirds. More woodwinds come to the party after this and I thought this section really showed off the woodwinds to perfection.
The third and final movement is again huge in concept and began promptly with energy with the pianist. There was another cadenza in which Perianes played all the technical difficulties with aplomb and yet with balance and integrity. The whole performance had an air almost of humility which his body language clearly attested to.
There were a number of “curtain calls” which were well deserved and for an encore Perianes played the sublime Grieg Nocturne op 54 no 4 which I found admirably matched to his performance of the concerto. Both works demand subtlety, strength and delicacy. The program notes attested to his predilection for Grieg piano works many being in his repertoire.
The Dvorak 6th symphony is one of the lesser known works of Dvorak, but deserves to be heard more often although it is hard to compete with the 8th and 9th symphonies both so deservedly popular. In one way what stood out here was that nothing really stood out due to the combination of Dvorak simply writing wonderful music that keeps giving with more and more wonderful melodies and that the orchestra also kept giving under the baton of their conductor. In this spirit I might just keep things general in nature by pointing to features such as the delightful interplay of the strings and the woodwinds. I also found the brass balanced well with the other sections of the orchestra without being overbearing. In brief nothing stuck out with this symphony which is how Dvorak should be. It was simply put, a delightful listening experience and wonderful to be led by the unfolding nature of the music.
Natalie Chee as guest concertmaster deserves mention here being entirely in her element throughout the concert. Her rhythmic accuracy and energy were evident giving excellent leadership to the whole string section. In particular the Dvorak scherzo with its changing metre was given wonderful driving energy.
The program notes gave excellent perspective and background information on the program.
The “conservative programming” of this afternoon’s concert has a place in the concert diary as too often I feel that we are “supposed to be enlightened” with new music. This was a program that delighted and entertained giving drama and melody in rapturous abundance through the programming of favourite repertoire and composers. There is nothing wrong with a program of Brahms and Dvorak and in fact there is everything to applaud for it, says this harpsichordist who loves and adores 19th century music.