Programming three starring works in Beethoven's musical firmament guarantees a large Circle Theatre turnout. And so it was on Friday's opening, with few vacant seats seen from my first mezzanine vantage point. Perhaps pianistic giant André Watts -- featured in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 58 -- sealed the high attendance. ISO music director Krzysztof Urbański helped make the concert a memorable one by conducting the Egmont Overture, Op. 84 and the Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92, in addition to the piano concerto.
Does anyone take issue with the notion that the Fourth Piano Concerto is Beethoven's finest in that genre? Its pianistic virtuosity overlain with a lyric glow compares it only with Mozart's best. Watts and Urbański's tempo in the first movement was a bit too slow for my taste. The pianist also tended to overemphasize the legato by somewhat overpedaling in his scale runs, passage runs and chordal work. Watts' dynamic nuances helped make the movement more of a success.
The short, sublime second movement in E minor, a dialogue between punctuated unison strings and a chorale-like keyboard response, fared much better. Urbański had his strings playing more staccato than what is usually heard, and it worked, heightening the contrasting lyricism from the piano. From Watts's single and double trilling in the movement's coda to his final single E cadence, I would not favor any other performance beyond Friday's. The finale, filled with exuberance, also worked well.Our pianist seemed to have caught his virtuosic stride by this time, and we experienced the Watts we've heard here so many times in the past.
As for the Seventh Symphony, Urbański's players sailed through its four movements paying heed to all its dance like qualities. Plus its most magnificent introduction of all four of the Beethoven symphonies which employ first-movement introductions.
The concert opened with Beethoven's overture to Egmont, for which the composer wrote incidental music. Clearly the overture sparked his creative juices far more than the remaining music which is virtually never performed. The overture, however, vies in popularity with almost all Beethoven's creations having an opus number. Regrettably, Urbański slowed the tempo to a crawl, severely compromising the impassioned writing. Hopefully our music director will fare better this Friday in an all Prokofiev program--one featuring the return of stellar violinist Hilary Hahn. Sept. 30