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Beethoven Piano Concerto No 4;
Symphony No. 5; Egmont overture

London Mozart Players / Stephen Kovacevich (piano and conductor)

Cadogan Hall 26 March 2007

I have long admired Kovacevich's Beethoven. I like it because it is natural, unpretentious, solid. Solidity gives authority, which I believe is very important in Beethoven - the sense that the audience has of being in safe hands.

Kovacevich must be able to play the fourth concerto in his sleep; nevertheless, it still sounded fresh, as did the very familiar orchestral works that followed. Just as in the first concert of the series, the concerto was placed first, again a change made the night before the concert; probably sensible practice for the soloist-director, who gets the most taxing bit over with first.

In his own note, Kovacevich suggested that the Allegro moderato marking at the head of the concerto might be best interpreted by playing the whole movement 'much more slowly than usual.' This was because there is a later, excised, meno mosso indication - Beethoven's indecision about this might be solved by a generally slower tempo. But Kovacevich did not live up to this billing - I heard no sign that any of the movmeent was slower than usual, if anything the contrary.

This is a very long-established partnership, and the rapport between soloist and orchestra was especially grateful in the slow movement. It goes without saying that Kovacevich's technical command and strength of character was much in evidence throughout the work.

Kovacevich, like Gould and Pollini, sits very low, and needs to have his own stool with the legs shortened. Height above the keyboard differs among pianists, and Liszt, for example, is supposed to have sat very high, but I remember that Heinrich Neuhaus, the greatest of all piano teachers, wrote that he improved his pupils' tone in lessons by gradually making them sit lower and lower.

The audience was a respectable size, but it still surprises me that the hall was not full, and that Kovacevich is not being asked to perform more such cycles in the most prestigious halls in the world. He is also no mean conductor - the orchestral works were classical, given on a big scale despite the relative smallness of the orchestra. an excellent mixture of poise and excitement.

Though the wind and brass sounds are enhanced and the timpani clear without being boomy, I don't think the Cadogan acoustic is ideal for piano music. A really life-enhancing concert.

Jill Crossland