The first thing to be said about the fortepiano is how attractive it looks. The gleaming instrument placed centre stage interested and intrigued as we waited for the guest director/soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout to play it for the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra concert. There was also the anticipation of the fortepiano’s sound as the transitional instrument between a harpsichord or modern piano.
However, we had to wait to a full appreciation of that, as for most of the program the fortepiano fulfilled its role as part of the continuo section, grounding the other instruments of the orchestra. Only in the Mozart piano concerto was the soloist heard to full effect. First however it was music by Bach… and more Bach. Not Johann Sebastian who is of course associated with the earlier types of keyboard, but his sons: the youngest, Johann Christian, and the eldest, Wilhelm Friedemann, whose era coincided with the emergence of the fortepiano.
J.C. Bach Sinfonia in G major, Op. 3 No. 6 introduced the orchestra and Kristian Bezuidenhout. Thanks to a strong attack from the strings from the outset the instrument was heard in its continuo role, although its brightness mirrored the other instruments and their phrasing and dynamics. The beautiful second movement foreshadowed Mozart, and the gentle continuo was welcome especially for its ability to share in the changing dynamics of the piece. Clearly there was a master at the keyboard.
As early as the second piece W.F. Bach’s Sinfonia in D minor the guest director shared the limelight with two of the Brandenburg’s own: flautists Melissa Farrow and Michaela Oberg. The substitution of Bezuidenhout’s fortepiano for Paul Dyer’s harpsichord on this occasion did not affect the quality of the Brandenburg sound, with the sparkling performance what we expect from one of Australia’s best ensembles and leader in interpretation of the Baroque.
For its length, popularity and as a vehicle for the soloist Bezuidenhout, the Mozart Piano concerto in D minor, K 466 was the main interest of the night. Bezuidenhout as director first established the sound of this quite romantic concerto, whose orchestral introduction is so long that there was quite a wait for the piano! When it came, of course, there was no disappointment. Bezuidenhout played with clarity and sensitivity, as far as the instrument allowed. But although the fortepiano can accommodate loud and soft, it is certainly limited compared with the modern piano in terms of dynamics. This concerto is surely one of Mozart’s most beautiful and touching in terms of its emotions, and it was perhaps surprising that this was the choice for the one item that showed Bezuidenhout as soloist rather than director.
The highlights of the performance were the dialogue between piano and orchestra and the cadenzas, superbly executed by Bezuidenhout. The third movement was showy and included trumpets for dramatic effect. The development was at speed and the work proceeded to an exciting conclusion. It was a virtuoso performance by all concerned and gave new insights into a well-loved concerto.
After interval it was back to Melissa Farrow in a pretty pewter-coloured draped dress, with Bezuidenhout back at the keyboard in his dual role of director and performer, not surprisingly very sensitive to the needs of the flute solo and its lovely phrasing in the Mozart Andante for Flute, K 315.
Finally it was more Mozart with the Symphony No. 36 in C major K425 Linz, the strings back in force and well supported by other instruments … and the piano back in the role of continuo. If this was a surprise to some audience members they were won over by the performance. The fortepiano added to the vibrancy of the strings to begin, the delicacy of the andante, the joyous spirit of the minuet and trio, and this fast and spirited presto that ended the work and the concert.
If Mozart’s Fortepiano had been a concept that turned expectations on their heads, it was also one which gave fresh reason to be proud of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and the very fine soloists that it attracts and nurtures.
This review was of the Melbourne Recital Centre performance on September 12, 2015.