The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (you should really go out and buy the paper!) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Symphony Hall on Saturday 13 February.
When a pianist directs a concerto from the keyboard, it’s supposed to be a liberation. Soloist and orchestra commune together without any distraction from that tiresome character with the baton: the result is like large-scale chamber music. Well that’s the theory, anyway. It stands or falls on the soloist’s basic ability to keep the whole thing in time.
There was never any likelihood of that being an issue in this final instalment of Rudolf Buchbinder’s Beethoven concerto cycle with the CBSO. The CBSO players are too skilled, too alert and too consummately professional to let anything fall down on the job. And with leader Zoë Beyers gesturing heroically from the front desk, the orchestral playing was crisper, smarter and more characterful than you’d think possible from Buchbinder’s vague, infrequent hand gestures.
If only he’d stuck to the piano! Buchbinder’s a hugely experienced artist, and the warmth of his reception shows that he has a natural connection with the Symphony Hall audience. But with his role split two ways, he never sounded wholly comfortable. Moments – a chain of translucent, feather-weight chords in the Largo of the First Concerto, the rapturous way he spun the melodic line over the Adagio of the Emperor concerto – showed what Buchbinder might have given us under different circumstances. Elsewhere cadenzas sounded fumbled, his fortissimos clangourous and harsh.
Of the two works in this short concert, it was the Emperor that came off best, taken at a cracking pace with a martial swagger that made the most of Buchbinder’s sometimes breathless approach. The First Concerto, by contrast, was baggy, and while the CBSO woodwinds delivered some lovely solos (Buchbinder gave clarinettist Oliver Janes a well-deserved bow), this was Beethoven as prose rather than poetry. You couldn’t help feeling that both soloist and orchestra were sketching only the bare outlines of the performances they would have given if a conductor had been present.