Conductor: Herbert Blomstedt
Mozart: Piano Concerto No 27 in B-Flat Major, K. 595 – Jonathan Biss
Bruckner: Symphony No 9 in D Minor
I wasn’t sure about going to the National Symphony Orchestra concert last night as there are so many other opportunities to hear Mozart piano concertos, although notably fewer with the much praised Jonathan Biss at the keyboard, and Bruckner has never been especially high on my list, although I realize that I need to become better acquainted with his oeuvre to form an informed opinion. Herbert Blomstedt may not be a household name outside the musical community, but he has had a distinguished career in the US and abroad, and that was one curiosity to be considered. On the other hand, the Biava Quartet was scheduled to perform neglected Jewish masterpieces upstairs and it was another tempting option. But eventually the NSO’s early start and interesting contrast of subdued and strong flavors won and turned out to be a good choice, even if regrets about missing Biava Quartet’s “Pro Musica Hebraica” are still lingering…
The main attraction of yesterday’s concert was the young but incredibly versatile pianist Jonathan Biss, and his performance of Mozart’s final piano concerto was undoubtedly the highlight of the evening. Considered by many as Mozart’s maturely serene swansong, the music is beautifully understated and seemingly written by somebody with nothing more to prove and at peace with himself. Its songlike quality, so suggestive of playful water drops, was evident as Biss’ fingers barely appeared to touch the keys while still creating enchanting sounds. The playing was effortlessly limpid, fluid and harmoniously complemented by a reduced and tamed NSO.
After Mozart’s magically delicate final concerto, Bruckner’s harrowingly intense final symphony was a rude awakening and resoundingly occupied the whole concert hall for the whole hour of its duration, even in the slower movements. There was no chance to let your attention falter there! Dedicated to “his dear God”, it is an immense undertaking, to be sure, and the brass section occasionally seemed to be having a bit too much of a good time, but the majestic grandeur of the work nevertheless shone through until the very last hushed notes, which closed the concert as softly as it had started.