Beethoven: Coriolan Overture; Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1; Dvorák: Symphony No. 5

Lill, Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Urbanski

Usher Hall, 21 October 2010 3 stars

Lisa Stokke

I had some mixed feelings about Friday night's RSNO programme of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Dvorák under conductor Krzysztof Urbanski.

Beethoven's Coriolan Overture opened the concert with little fuss. The Beethovenian dynamic contrasts were evident but the softer passages were left feeling empty of sentiment. Although Urbanski seemed to be striving for precision, something was lost in the feeling of the piece. In the end, it was a very uneventful overture, quickly forgotten as the programme moved on to the main act.

In Tchaikovsky's first Piano Concerto John Lill was technically brilliant. His playing exuded an air of confidence with the concerto appearing effortless. His no-nonsense approach was certainly clean and precise, clearly impressing the audience as the thunderous applause continued to bring him back on stage. But perhaps it was too effortless, as at times the performance needed a bit more than just technical virtuosity in order to make an impression on this much-played work. In the second movement, particularly, Lill's playing felt a little sparse, lacking in emotional depth amid the dreamy soundscape of the strings. The final Allegro con fuoco, although coming with some slightly muddled transitions in the string parts, delivered a climax worthy of praise. The RSNO seemed quite comfortable with the concerto, supporting Lill well and delivering what was perhaps their best performance of the evening.

Urbanski wasted no time in promptly starting the second half's performance of Dvorák's fifth Symphony. He continued to endeavour for meticulous dynamic control as with the Beethoven, but again it is questionable whether he achieved the desired effect. At times the strings dropped down to a whimper and lost their voluptuous sound. It was the wind section that brought this symphony to life, delivering some excellent solos. The Finale was the most emotive movement, successfully carrying the symphony to an exciting close, but the rest was unfortunately a little disappointing.

It is not that Friday's performance was in any way a bad one, it just wasn’t a particularly stimulating one. The Beethoven and the Dvorák were not the most invigorating of programme choices, and Urbanski did not manage to add the much needed vitality to lift these works to new heights. Since the Tchaikovsky concerto is such a well-known repertoire piece there must be something new brought to this grand work, a new thrill to entice audiences. Unfortunately, this was not found in John Lill's performance. As an accomplished pianist, he did justice to a great classic with his technical virtuosity, but without adding any further excitement. Under Urbanski's hand, the RSNO did just that as well – an adequate performance, but no more.

By Theresa Steward

Photo: John Lill

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