Maria João Pires continued to reach out to conductor Lorenzo Viotti, but the frenetic audience in the sold-out Concertgebouw really came for her. Viotti, who hid behind the grand piano during the applause, felt it. He conducted the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra on Saturday evening, in addition to Mozart’s last piano concerto, with Pires, also in Brahms’ Second Symphony and Wagner’s Siegfried-Idyll.
In advance, there were good reasons for him not to click between Pires and Viotti, opposites in many respects. Portugal’s frail anti-diva Pires is reluctant to show off, has a love-hate relationship with the stage (and the grand piano), and seems almost accidentally caught up in the existence of a classic superstar.
Viotti is the perfectly groomed jet-setter who doesn’t shy away from the grand gesture and uses his six-pack on Instagram to recruit young audiences for his art. With his tailored suit and mustache, he looked a bit like a gentleman from a costume drama, while in his goat speech beforehand he praised Pires’ service to the music.
But what is good is that very different characters can sometimes come together. Viotti is a gifted craftsman for dramaturgy and his accompaniment in Mozart Piano Concerto No. 27 was properly restrained, so Pires had all the space. From her first entry, after the rather long orchestral introduction, she wrote a charming phrase of calligraphy, with the most subtle shades of color. No matter how refined and delicate she sometimes played, she never got drowned out – great work.
“I’m getting older and playing worse than ever,” Pires said last winter at the NRC. She also said old age brings new perspectives, especially at concerts. His playing was certainly not flawless on Saturday, but it was beautiful, the opposite of clinical, the opposite of special effects: warm, intimate, thoughtful. In her disarming way, Pires seemed relieved and delighted afterwards.
“Back to earth,” sighed Viotti after the break, before starting (from memory) Brahms’ light-footed second. The NedPhO’s diminutive Mozart line-up had expanded to a full orchestra, but there was plenty of chamber musical finesse, for example in the wonderful wind ensemble at the start of the allegretto. The euphoric finish splashed with joie de vivre. On Saturday, the NedPhO will play Brahms Second again, without Pires, with baritone Matthias Goerne as Mahlers Rückert-Lieder.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper on January 23, 2023
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