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Review: RSNO and John Lill

JOHN Lill's 70th birthday, I was informed on Saturday night, actually falls in March.

So the RSNO was billing it a little early on Saturday as the pianist arrived in the city that loves him so much to perform again with the orchestra he loves so much to play with. But it's never too early to mark the birthday of a great man. And there could have been no more appropriate repertoire for the occasion than Brahms's mountainous First Piano Concerto, for which, in my view, Lill is almost uniquely equipped in the colossal physical and intellectual firepower required to make absolute sense of a piece that some find (wrongly) cumbersome and ungainly.

Lill's architectural command of the large canvas of Brahms's huge concerto has been well documented here over the decades. And it was no less awesome on Saturday, displaying the rich plurality of Brahms's themes, the emotional volcano that bubbles at the heart of the great slow movement, and the spring-loaded propulsion of energy in the fantastic finale. But if there was a single feature that characterised this performance, it was that Lill's playing absolutely confirmed and underlined the unerring rightness of Brahms's inspiration in putting this gigantic masterpiece together in his twenties, despite some doubts in the composer's own mind. Conductor Douglas Boyd and the RSNO played to the hilt for the great man, with all their weight and authority.

In an interesting programme, the RSNO gave good performances of Stravinsky's Symphonies Of Wind Instruments (brilliant colour contrasts) and an intense and clear account of Schubert's Fourth Symphony.

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