Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, Aug 3
Replacement maestro Hrůša handles the heavy artillery of Brahms and Rachmaninov

Brahms’ Piano Concerto No 1 in D Minor Op 15 was intended to be a symphony, and it is clear from the grand, decisive opening that we are about to hear a work of symphonic proportions. Nicholas Angelich and Jakub Hrůša (the latter replacing Tugan Sokhiev, who was indisposed) understood this and scaled their performance accordingly, the conductor emphasising the fullness of Brahms’ orchestration, and the pianist projecting a larger-than-life solo part. Few passages in the first movement sound like a “normal” 19th-century piano concerto, but whenever they occurred Angelich lightened his touch deftly. The second movement is a magnified rumination on the slow movement of Beethoven’s 4th Concerto and was sensitively done. The pianist’s lovingly sculpted solos were occasionally marred by an out-of-tune B natural. (I’m not being precious here; it was rather obvious.) Angelich launched into the final Rondo at quite a lick without sacrificing expressive detail or weight of tone.

A brisk Carnival Overture was followed by Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. This late masterpiece is a virtual concerto for orchestra and each soloist seized the moment, especially saxophonist Christina Leonard and first violin Natalie Chee. The plaintive woodwind passage in the first dance was beautifully blended; what an interesting orchestrator Rachmaninov was! Hrůša kept the vast forces together with clarity and rarely introduced any quirks of his own. When he slowed almost to a halt in the second movement Waltz and imposed a sudden race to the finish at the work’s close, I wasn’t convinced. Nevertheless he is a charismatic and capable young conductor.

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