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Weber Brahms and Schumann

Weber Overture, Oberon (1826)

Brahms Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, op.15 (1858)

Schumann Symphony No.2 in C, op.61 (1845/1846)


Yefim Bronfman piano,
Philharmonia Orchestra/Fabio Luisi


Royal Festival Hall, London – 13 March 2010


Due to Christoph von Dohnànyi’s indisposition, Fabio Luisi took over and proved himself to be the right choice. Luisi is not well known here but he is a fine conductor; I’ve heard his work in live radio broadcasts and he has impressed me. Tonight, my first experience of him in person, I was not disappointed.


Weber’s Oberon Overture had sensitive playing from horn and strings at the start and a rollicking allegro. Whilst I might question Luisi’s putting on the brakes for the second subject this was a passing miscalculation – it’s a lovely tune, not a dirge and it doesn’t need such a slow tempo – it didn’t overly spoil the forward momentum of the music.


Luisi set off the Brahms Concerto with a tutti of great strength and power. This sounded, to me, as if we were going to have a large scale performance full of fire and passion. Passion we certainly had but not of the kind I expected, for as soon as Bronfman made his first entry the fire went out and elegance and style took over. How much had he and Luisi discussed their performance; the two seemed at odds throughout. The restrained benediction of the slow movement suited Bronfman’s temperament perfectly and Luisi understood this music to be an almost religious experience. The finale never really took fire until the coda when Luisi unleashed his orchestra and there were fireworks aplenty.


These were two performances which didn’t gell together and the result was music making which stayed firmly on the ground.


Schumann’s 2nd, on the other hand, received a superb interpretation, full of everything you want – passion, fire, drama, exuberance. Luisi was on top of this music, letting it loose whenever he could and allowing a free reign, responding to inspiration of the moment. There was some fine playing here from the woodwind, splendid in both fast, forward moving music, and slow in lyrical mode; the timpani were forthright and the strings romantically resplendent. The poor brass have so little to do, but when they threw their weight into the mix the sound had a blistering intensity.


Luisi chose perfect tempo which let the music speak clearly to us. His grasp of the architecture was first rate and he gradually built the whole edifice from start to finish in a most satisfactory way. Let’s hope we get the chance to hear more of Fabio Luisi’s work here before long.


Bob Briggs