When Christoph Eschenbach and Tzimon Barto came up with the idea to combine Schumann’s two single movement Introduction & Allegro pieces for piano and orchestra, joined by the haunting Geistervariationen as the slow middle movement, to a de-facto Piano Concerto, they hit upon a winner. The resulting recording was my highlight of 2010, and they’ve been successfully touring the program since. No wonder they keep repeating it wherever they go.
I have heard it in Hamburg in 2009, in Salzburg in 2010, and this January it was time for the Munich Philharmonic to play along. I’ve found the popular reception always positive, but the critical reception ranges from haughty dismissal to enthusiastic paeans, often after the same performance. True: the program isn’t as effective as it is on CD, and can stretch the listeners’ attention span with its prolonged soft and slow passages. But the rewards are enormous, too, especially Barto’s downright aggressive pianissimo, which is to say that even in as large a hall as the Gasteig Philharmonic Hall in he plays so deliberately softly that it forces the audience to stop coughing and listen. The resulting soft murmur of the op.92 Introduction & Allegro appassionato’s opening, with lovingly buzzing strings underneath, was particularly present on the second of three performances.
R.Schumann, "Ghost Concerto" et al.,
T.Barto / C.Eschenbach / NDRSO
R.Schumann, Symphonies 1-4,
C.Eschenbach / NDRSO
Amid beautifully plangent woodwinds the orchestra, as always getting better from night to night, was more determined than enthusiastic and not always together under Eschenbach’s loving, grand gestures. The audience demanded and got its encores: On the second night a Chopin Nocturne, on the third Schumann’s “Mignon”—both very much played in the same hushed style, superficially a good match, but—despite what I just said about loving his ppp—‘playing into their hands’, as it were.
There was a sense of liberated joyousness in the third night’s performance of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony: Happy and wild, energetic and carefree, with a surprisingly broad smile for the Symphony, and more convincing in character than execution. The third movement waddled and might have benefitted from a more tightly controlling hand, but the fourth returned with zest for an exciting finale, accompanied by unshackled blaring brass.