Well might the audience cheer, clap rhythmically and stamp their feet. Saturday night we were treated to at least one fabulous Brahms Concerto performance and one excellent one. Opinions may differ as to which was which.
The D minor concerto is tempestuous, influenced by Beethoven’s Ninth, haunted by Brahms feelings about Schumann’s mental illness. It has to be played with absolute conviction. In Mangova it seems to have found its almost ideal interpreter, strong but never metallic or brittle in the bravura passages and trills, sensitive and lyrically attuned to its introspective passages, unphased by Brahms’ sometimes ungrateful piano writing and the frequent problems of integration with the thick orchestral writing.
In this she was aided by Lawrence Foster’s modest, unassuming, but subtle command of orchestral discipline and colour. Again and again, passages which frequently come off clearly in recordings, but which are lost in the heat of live performance worked their requisite magic. The first movement was nearly ideal, the slow movement cleverly realised and the last movement superbly flighted and articulated. I don’t think Ms. Mangova smudged a run, touched a wrong note or blurred anything with the pedal. It was as near to perfect playing as one has a right to expect in this world, and it rightly brought the house down.
Andrei Korebeinikov, clearly a highly gifted pianist and musician, had a difficult act to follow. His playing was superb, displaying great intelligence, keyboard skill and imagination. What was missing, at least to my ears, was the feeling of an onward drama featuring both orchestra and piano as joint protagonists. It felt to me as if Mr. Koreibnikov was waiting like a panther to pounce on his passages, playing them often for all they were worth, as well as they possibly can be played, but without seeing how they functioned in leading to and from the orchestral writing around them. The performance lacked the feeling of organic growth which had so distinguished that of the D minor concerto.
That said, the evening was musically a great success and showed, among other things, what an excellent ensemble the Marseille Orchestra has become. Two symphonic poems by Liszt, a beautifully turned Orpheus and, to these ears, the unbearably pompous Les Preludes, contained much to be admired in terms of orchestral playing and were not inappropriate companions for the two masterworks of concerto literature which they framed.