WHY is every solo artist suddenly a music director as well?
Is it ego ? Or an anti-conductor thing? They're all at it: Leif Ove Andsnes has his first volume of Beethoven concertos out, where he directs the Mahler Chamber Orchestra as well as being soloist; Joshua Bell is now recording Beethoven symphonies, directing from the front seat of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Gosh: the day might come when I have to write a piece defending the role of the conductor.
On Friday the SCO fielded one of its favourite pianists, Piotr Anderszewski, playing and directing the SCO in two of Mozart's greatest piano concertos: K488 in A major, and K503 in C major. Something interesting emerged. You won't like it, and nor will the adulatory crowd in the near-capacity house.
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Anderszewski is a wonderful pianist. He's been here many times, playing everything from Szymanowski to Mozart. He's a real poet, quite the opposite of the barnstorming showman. But his swimming technique in directing the SCO, while playing the concerto, just didn't do it for me. The audience went ga-ga; I went home, glum.
K488 is all about sunshine, while K503, big in gesture, big in scale, is meatily symphonic. Neither worked, in those senses. They came over merely as anodyne, featureless and practically perfectly-played pieces. Who cares? Give us a bit of character. Just play it, and get a conductor in to direct the orchestra. Or if it's the SCO, let the leader direct. Soloists, please do what you do and just play the damn piano.
The SCO, with leader Alexander Janiczek, also played Schubert's Italian Style Overture and Beethoven's Great Fugue.