BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTO NO.4
Orchestra of the Music Makers
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory
28 October 2012)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 30 October 2012 with the title "An enjoyable musical experiment".
It all started with the idea of an experiment; a young orchestra working with an experienced professor and concert pianist in a repertoire work in which the novice players had never previously encountered. With only one prior rehearsal, and one public discussion in front of symposium delegates, a concert performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto was ready to go.
All this suggests sure-fire recipes of an impending disaster, but reality was kinder. Before the performance began, the Queensland-based piano pedagogue Stephen Emmerson briefly elucidated on the interpretation of the work’s second movement. Although it is Beethoven’s shortest concerto movement, it is also his most evocative.
The stark music was a representation of Orpheus taming the Furies on his passage to the Underworld, with singing that soothed the wounded breast. It was with this notion in mind that instructed the concerto’s opening bars, unusually played by solo piano. Emmerson entered with a rolled G major chord, a liberty taken that seems to replicate notes played on a lyre, and his brief solo was taken at a deliberate and leisurely pace.
Then the strings quietly registered in a remote B major, possibly one of Beethoven’s boldest and most inspired gambits. This sense of apparent disorientation catches the ear, but soon the orchestra settled comfortably into what is regarded his interpretatively most challenging concerto.
Unlike the Third or Fifth Concertos, the Fourth has a relatively un-showy piano part that is so well integrated with the orchestra and doubly difficult to pull off. In places, Emmerson struggled and stumbled, but the pace of the work never faltered, the orchestra expertly kept on track by conductor Chan Tze Law’s direction.
Comparisons will be made with The Philharmonic Orchestra’s recent Beethoven cycle, and it has to be said that Lim Yan’s technique was far more secure than this rough and ready account. Like Lim, Emmerson played his own very well written cadenzas for the outer movements. The first movement cadenza worked on decorative figures and subsidiary themes idiomatically while the finale’s was brief, cogent and attention grabbing.
Remarkable also was the seating arrangement, which had the pianist facing both conductor and audience, and surrounded by woodwinds. Given one or two to a part, the winds were in effect secondary soloists, and were accorded that distinction. They acquitted themselves well, contributing to the overall successes of the performance.
Admission was free to this Performer’s Voice Symposium concert, but the audience was in no way made to feel like guinea pigs in this musical trial. They, this listener and the young musicians mostly enjoyed themselves, suffering no side effects along the way.