N.A.O. – an OK Eroica; an ‘OMG’ Emperor! 1

Review by Danny Gaisin

                    Brott Festival’s Jacqui Muir, in welcoming the BPAC audience asked that ‘conducting between movements be curtailed…she corrected this to applause which can be distracting. However, I hope she didn’t really want to restrict those of us familiar enough with the scheduled works from slightly tapping out the tempi or even an occasional theme hum. Tonight it was Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony and his fifth piano concerto; two genuine favorites of this scribe.

Arthur Ozolins performing Beethoven's "Emperor" with the NAO

Arthur Ozolins performing Beethoven’s “Emperor” with the NAO

The first half of the concert was the Beethoven 3rd, popularly titled ‘The Eroica’. It’s a long work (just under an hour) whose opening allegro movement takes up about half of the total. Conducted by apprentice Ben Kepes, it was a hesitant start. There was noticeable slurred bowing by the first violins and a glaring technical glitch from the brass section. Kepes interpretation was forceful and intricate but without emotional depth or feeling. The 2nd movement (marcia funebre) had the requisite dirge-like tone and sombreness. The mood was effectively portrayed by moments of intricate pizzicato celli & bass motifs.
The next two movements, the short (five-minute) scherzo third and the allegro molto were impeccable. Conducted by Brott, there was a conspicuous emotional transformation by the orchestra. The flutes and wind section made yeoman contributions producing a most heroic finish.
Beethoven’s final piano concerto, no. 5, (ignore the math) is his celebrated ‘Emperor’. This essayist possesses 3 versions- Perahia; Serkin & Fleisher. Tonight we heard the piece iterated by renowned soloist Arthur Ozolins and it was utterly magical. From the opening allegro, the man’s intensity and forceful dynamism was only outdone by his meticulous offering of full measure to each individual note. Even his pauses contributed to the dramatic reading. The 2nd movement, the famous adagio poco mosso with its brief theme

The "Emperor's" Adagio theme

The “Emperor’s” Adagio theme

(borrowed by Bernstein for his ‘West Side Story’ aria); was so emotionally presented that my arm hairs and neck hackles were electrified! His flourishes and subtle embellishments had me squeezing the armrest! His right hand is breath-taking in its speed and dexterity. Post-curtain, I dared not shake the man’s hand; I kissed it!

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