Melbourne Symphony Orchestra review: Brazilian virtuoso Nelson Freire displays unassuming mastery

By Clive O`Connell
The Age
October 3, 2016

A night of orchestral fireworks, you`d expect. This program began with a flashy Szymanowski overture and wound up with two of Respighi`s Roman suites, showcases for the participants.

Much of the enthusiasm that coloured Friday night`s proceedings came from conductor Marcelo Lehninger​, a young Brazilian-born musician with a flair for the grand gesture in expansively shaped interpretations.

In response, the MSO showed willing in its work, especially throughout the Italian master-orchestrator`s confections.

You can easily point to the Richard Strauss influences in the youthful Concert Overture by Szymanowski​ with its bounding brass, furious string action and heroic/contemplative mood juxtapositions.

Lehninger followed its broad strokes, encouraging a horn group which didn`t need it, but giving full measure to the placid interludes before the rousing conclusion with its harmonic procrastination. Respighi`s Fountains and Pines gained from rich individual instrumental colours alongside lavish ensemble sound washes.

Of the two, the Fountains made the better impression, particularly the languorous somnolence of the Villa Medici`s sunset waterworks.

Accomplished as these richly sonorous exercises proved, the concert`s highpoint came with Nelson Freire​`s benign performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto.

With an incisive awareness of the composer`s primacy as a musical poet, the soloist ignored the usual path of skewing this work into a virtuosic exercise, avoiding any temptations to grandiose display; rather, emphasising the inbuilt intimacy and fanciful meandering that permeates this gentle masterpiece of understatement.

An individual in a crowded field, Freire displayed an unassuming mastery at every point in an interpretation of illuminating restraint.

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