Sunday, December 18, 2011

REVIEW: Paul Lewis with HKPO


Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday December 3

Over a year ago, Paul Lewis came to Hong Kong to perform the Beethoven Piano Concert No. 5 in E flat (Emperor), Op. 73 with the HKPO (click here to see my review). In my review, I concluded “I came away impressed but not excited. The interpretation was standard and safe.” Interpretation is a very tricky subject. Just recently, I wrote a review on Brooklyn Rider and said “They are not about what the music has to say about the players, but rather what the players have to say about the music.” Interpretation is one of those things that are very subjective in nature and the opinions about them change depending on what were being practiced during that time.

To understand Paul Lewis is to understand that he is about what the music has to say about him; and in Mozart’s Piano Concert No. 23 in A, K488, the music showed an honest and natural musician in Lewis. In retrospect, the interpretation was also standard and safe, yet it worked with great wonders as it sounded organic and as if the music is speaking on its own directly without a conduit. I particularly like the even and faithful tempo employed at times when it can be very tempting to gear-up tempo rubato. Even the orchestra, led by Osmo Vanska, also played along to this crisp steadiness. It is this skillful and judicious control of tempo that I find the performance of the piece most admirable.

The evening’s Mahler Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor was for me a revelation. I remember Herbert von Karajan once said that when listening to Mahler’s Fifth, “you forget that time has passed. A great performance of the Fifth is a transforming experience. The fantastic finale almost forces you to hold your breath.” Well, I understand what he meant because that was how I felt… well, not exactly transforming… but transfix? Yes!

The opening trumpet was striking and that pretty much set off the magic. The strings were translucent and details were beautifully executed. The frequently performed Adagietto was a bit too extrovert for my taste, but I am just nitpicking. The reality was that I could easily say that it was one of the best Mahler performance I have ever heard from HKPO!

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Vänskä Returns – Mahler 5
2&3-12-2011 Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Programme
MOZART: Piano Concerto No.23 in A, K488
MAHLER: Symphony No.5

Osmo Vänskä, conductor
Paul Lewis, piano

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