I heard his Fourth Concerto last week (see the review below). His “Emperor” was, in some ways, a striking contrast to his approach to the Fourth – and together, the two performances offered complementary views of the kind of pianist the 19-year-old from Wunderkind from Mississauga has become.
What struck me most about Lisiecki’s interpretation of the “Emperor” was his keen sense of musical drama and rhetoric (aided and abetted by guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard on the podium.) I liked the exciting flourish of his descending chromatic lines in the first movement. I enjoyed the way his third movement burst like a joyous explosion, after a few dreamy, wistful notes. And there was a playfulness to his passage-work that made it sound like “passage-fun.” This kind of heightened attention to detail added sizzle to the steak.
Previously, in the Fourth Concerto, Lisiecki demonstrated that a light, delicate touch is something that he has cultivated. And this admirable quality was also heard in the second movement of the Fifth. In the outer movements, when something more forceful was called for, he played with a bright, clear tone that easily cut through the orchestra. Unfortunately, this often led to a brittle, “plunky” sound. What was lacking was the satisfying solidity that comes from fortissimo and legato combined. But he is young – and we may hope that this will develop over time.
One thing Lisiecki has already developed is the ability to project his personality in an interview situation. At intermission, he chatted with Toronto Star veteran critic William Littler about music and pianos, dominating the conversation with strongly held opinions. (I’ve never before seen Littler at a loss for words.)
As with the other TSO concerts featuring Lisiecki in Beethoven concertos, the second half was devoted to a Nielsen symphony – and for this program it was the Fifth. Before the performance, Dausgaard described the piece as a musical contest between the sections of the orchestra. Implicitly, that made him a kind of referee, tasked with managing the various opposing forces.
As such, he did a fine job in the first movement, artfully bringing one section to the fore, while pushing another into the background – all the while moving things along at a lively tempo. Under his baton, the TSO – especially the strings – responded with a taut, sinewy sound that emphasized the linear, forward-drive of the music. And special credit should go to principal percussionist John Rudolph worked up a storm on his snare drum.
However, the second movement did not fare as well. Here, Dausgaard didn’t seem as securely in control, which resulted in some problems of balance and clarity. At times, it seemed that the whole movement simply “stalled” – with the orchestra conflicted with itself and furiously going nowhere. Happily, Dausgaard pulled the band together for an imposing grand finale.
© Colin Eatock 2014