Classical review: RSNO/John Lill, Glasgow

A performance, made to look so simple, that will rank among the truly memorable. Picture: Ian Rutherford

A performance, made to look so simple, that will rank among the truly memorable. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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It’s often the case with a guest soloist that the presence of true greatness will automatically raise the game of an orchestra. And since few pianists come greater, more authoritative and erudite than John Lill, it wasn’t surprising to find Saturday’s second half performance of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto by the soon-to-be 70-year-old, with the RSNO, overshadowing all that had gone before.

RSNO/John Lill - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

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Not that the first half performances of Stravinsky’s feverish Symphonies of Winds (gritty, but not quite electrifying enough) or Schubert’s Tragic Symphony (something of a misnomer in this dancing account) served us short. Conductor Douglas Boyd drew stark precision from the Stravinsky, and distinct intimacy from the Schubert.

But the moment the Brahms got under way, we were transported to a whole new dimension. An enlightening one at that. Why, for instance, the scaled-down lower strings? If the reason was to release a latent spring-like delicacy in the score, and give Lill freedom to express the softer expressive potential of the solo writing, then it was a revelation.

I didn’t miss the usual heavy underplay of cellos, enjoying instead the effortless intertwining of soloist and orchestra, Lill’s poetic intensity thus having complete freedom to explore the softest nuances. The slow movement was simply breathtaking, Lill weaving the solo line like a spinal silken thread, around which Boyd’s sensitive shaping of the orchestral commentary created a timeless beauty. A performance, made to look so simple, that will rank among the truly memorable.

Seen on 01.02.14

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