The second concert in the Beethoven Symphony Cycle, which runs until next summer, brought not only the German composer’s relatively little known fourth symphony but also a masterclass from John Lill who, with the orchestra, opened the concert with Brahms’ second Piano Concerto, the composer’s tour-de-force.
Lill, arguably the leading British concert pianist of his generation, shows no signs of diminishing powers at this stage in his 55-year career. He continues to be that flamboyantly gifted musician seen across the world playing with all of the great orchestras.
Coupled with the evening’s conductor, Mario Venzago, a mere youngster at 66, they were a compelling advertisement for a long, music-enriched life.
The Brahms work is actually longer than the Beethoven symphony, and indeed filled the first half of the concert.
But what a treat it was, with Lill playing with both the power and the restraint that the score demands. It was notable that both soloist and conductor went straight to cellist Daniel Hammersley at the end of the piece to offer personal thanks for his fine contribution to the slow movement, which sees that instrument carrying the melody.
After the break, Bradley Creswick led a string sextet in the prelude from Richard Strauss’s last opera, Capriccio. The music’s themes weaved between the instruments in beguiling fashion – Strauss at his very best.
The headline piece brought out the best not only in our orchestra, but in their principal conductor’s agile and involving reading.
Venzago is always a treat to watch as he cajoles every nuance from his musicians’ performances.
The fourth symphony itself is a largely cheerful work, described by composer Robert Schumann as “a slender maiden between two Norse giants” (the giants being the fourth and fifth symphonies), and has much to commend it with the optimistic mood prevailing right to the end.
Even the black Labrador guide dog, which listened so attentively at the front of the hall, indulged in some in-time tail-wagging in the last movement – and no, I wasn’t imagining that.
Once again, a fine evening’s entertainment at Sage Gateshead, bringing together great performers and great composers to the delight of young, old and canine alike.
The next Beethoven symphony in the cycle is his seventh, to be performed here on November 12.
by Rob Barnes