ISO features Beethoven/Brahms' "firsts"

Pianist Dejan Lazic

Dejan Lazic is the ISO's only guest pianist to have played

Brahms' "Third" Piano Concerto here a few years back. But Brahms only wrote two piano

concertos, you say. Yes

he did, but our Croatian-born pianist recast Brahms' Violin Concerto into a

piano concerto, and very successfully, as his performance here demonstrated. This time,

however, Lazic returned to perform the German Romantic master's Piano Concerto

No. 1 in D Minor,

Op. 15 (1858). Written

when the composer was 25, it is Brahms' first large-scale masterwork -- by quite

a few years. In

breadth and scope it all-but-equals his Second Piano Concerto (which we'll hear

Lazic perform next weekend), written 23 years later when he was at the peak of

his large-scale creativity.

With ISO music director Krzysztof Urbański returning to

the podium, his program opened with Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21, another "first." Though most would

deem it the weakest of the composer's Immortal Nine, Op. 21 (1800) stands up as

rather substantial fare on its own, exceeding all the earlier symphonies of

Haydn and Mozart when the form was in its infancy. Though inferior to most of his

predecessors' late symphonies, Op. 21 shows the Beethoven stamp from its

introductory phrase onward.

Allowing for some rough string work at the start, the symphony was

given a durable, energetic reading with a good up-tempo apropos to all four

movements. In their rapid passage work in the

fourth movement, the strings redeemed themselves with crisp, taut playing. In

hearing Beethoven's Op. 21, we could anticipate how Urbański would manage

the composer's succeeding eight.

If Urbański had approached the Brahms First Piano

Concerto as he had the Beethoven, and with Lazic following suit, the evening

would have been a total success. As it was, the 20-minute first movement

dawdled along at seemingly half tempo, allowing the movement to lose any

forward drive, any forward thrust. Lazic's nicely nuanced playing seemed

well in sympathy with his podium colleague.But he could have provided those

nuances with much more forward momentum, as demonstrated in an old Leon

Fleischer/ George Szell/Cleveland Orchestra recording.

The second movement, the most beautiful Adagio Brahms ever

wrote, came off better, its slow tempo a must here. This is a movement of ever shifting

harmonies, somehow recalling late Beethoven, with whose work Brahms was

undoubtedly familiar. Lazic's legato was spot on in the mostly soft passages, as well

as in the dramatic outbursts.

Though the third movement, a sparking rondo, could have

stood a faster pace, Urbański's choice did not detract from the movement

as it had the first. Lazic's

cascading octaves seemed excessively loud, as though he were pounding them with

a hammer. Still,

I look forward to hearing his approach to Brahms' Second--and Urbański's as

well. Nov. 6; Hilbert Circle Theatre


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