Maria João Pires, piano Berliner Philharmoniker Pierre Boulez European Concert Mosteiro dos Jerónimos From Lisbon 2003
Every year since 1991 the Berlin Philharmonic has given a 'Europa-Konzert' ('European Concert') in a major European city to commemorate the founding of the orchestra. The 2003 concert was in Lisbon, Portugal, at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Monastery of St. Heironymus), a gorgeous group of buildings of golden hue built by a Portuguese king to honor the discoveries of Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama. The program plays to Boulez's strengths, namely his ability to delineate form, line and instrumental color, and both the orchestra and the piano soloist, Maria João Pires, are in topmost form. The program consists of Ravel's 'Le Tombeau de Couperin,' Mozart's D Minor Piano Concerto, K. 466, and Bartók's 'Concerto for Orchestra'--three favorites well-loved by general audiences and cognoscenti alike. It's almost as if the program had been chosen to spotlight the BPO's extraordinarily talented principal oboist, Albrecht Mayer, as he does yeoman duty here, especially in the Ravel and Bartók, as well as in the encore, 'Fêtes' from Debussy's 'Trois Nocturnes.' Indeed, every department of the orchestra stands out, but it is the BPO's winds who are featured most prominently in this repertoire. The sound captured by the technicians is worth comment. It is rich and full, and in spite of a bit of cathedral acoustic with a moderately long decay-time, the inner voices and contrapuntal lines are crystal clear, even in the fastest passages. The monastery's acoustic, indeed, envelops the orchestra's sound in a warmth that is sometimes not heard in Boulez's often ultra-clinical-sounding recordings. Frankly, I liked it a lot, because we get the best of both worlds--clarity along with refulgent sound, the latter matching the glow of the monastery's rich interior. This is one of the best performances of 'Tombeau de Couperin'. You have to hear Mayer's breathtaking presto in the opening theme to believe it. The overall shape and tempi are marvelously judged by Boulez. Pires, a patrician pianist, is simply superb in the Mozart. But it was a bit of a shock when she suddenly seemed to be racing for the gate. Nonetheless, her phrasing, utter control of dynamics, ease of technique made this a performance to treasure. She made the languorous middle movement, with its dramatic middle section, sound almost proto-Romantic, just as it should. The Rondo finale is joyous. All of the 'Concerto for Orchestra' was superb, from the mysterious half-tones of the first and third movements, to the drollery of the 'Giuoco delle coppie' of the second and the Lehar quotation in the fourth, and of course oboist Mayer was to the fore again in that movement's main theme. The energy of the fifth movement was brought off by a precision that only great orchestras can manage.
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