Pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout brings a shine to Mozart and Schumann in this minimalist chamber music recital.
Richard Tognetti, violin. Image via ACO.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra was represented by just four players for this program of Mozart and Schumann. Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major might have been the signature work here, but that was curiously sandwiched between two pieces by Schumann.
The four musicians strode on stage and began playing Schumann’s Quartet in A major without fuss or fanfare. Artistic director and principal violin Richard Tognetti, principal violin Helena Rathbone, principal cello Timo-Veikko ‘Tipi’ Valve, and guest viola Florian Peelman, worked closely together, each watching for critical eye contact from the others. Tognetti, Rathbone and Peel were standing, with Valve seated on a riser. This composition was considered bold and innovative back in 1842, but certain passages just sound awkward now with their deliberate off-beats and odd phrasing. There are also some fine passages, and the cello was particularly expressive. Listening to this, the overwhelming emotion is anxiety rather than pleasure. Curiously, the house lights flashed on and off repeatedly during the first movement – was the ghost of Schumann expressing some displeasure?
After a brief rearrangement of the stage, they were joined by their special guest Kristian Bezuidenhout, a pianist lauded for his understanding of Mozart. Together they gave a minimalist interpretation of the Piano Concerto, with the soloist accompanied by just the string quartet and not the full chamber orchestra. Bezuidenhout breezed through the four movements as if on a carefree Sunday stroll, appearing to exert no energy or undue influence on the music. Unusually, the Steinway grand was placed centre-stage with Bezuidenhout downstage, rather than across the stage. Whilst this gave the audience a good opportunity to observe the speed and delicacy of his fingering, it did mean the sound felt a tad unbalanced.
Schumann’s romantic Piano Quintet in E flat filled out the rest of the program. This was a gentle reading of the Qunitet, executed with warmth rather than passion, and showing a fair balance between the strings and the piano. The moody second movement ‘in the mode of a march’ lost a little of its funereal formality but was still one of the highlights of the performance.
It’s always a treat to see Kristian Bezuidenhout, and the ACO are a remarkable company, but somehow the elements just didn’t come together in this recital, sadly feeling just felt a little lacklustre and underwhelming.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Australian Chamber Orchestra
SCHUMANN String Quartet No.3 in A major
MOZART Piano Concerto No.13 in C major
SCHUMANN Piano Quintet in E-flat major
Kristian Bezuidenhout - Piano
Richard Tognetti - Director & Violin
Helena Rathbone - Violin
Florian Peelman - Viola
Timo-Veikko Valve - Cello
Sydney Opera House
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level