Lars Vogt, in tackling the intricacies of Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor as soloist and conductor, demonstrated the strength and passionate nature of his musicianship. In some performances this concerto can sound wistful, poetic and even domestic, but this was a very different kettle of fish. We were presented with a grand vision of the work that influenced so many that followed it: think of the Liszt, Brahms, Grieg, Tchaikovsky and even the Rachmaninov concertos, that owe so much to Schumann's work in terms of the combination of soloist and orchestra and in their über-Romantic tone.

Lars Vogt and the Orchestre de chambre de Paris
© Philharmonie

Pianists as conductors are nothing new, but taking the dual role in this concerto is a particular challenge due to the fact that the soloist is almost constantly playing. When he could, Vogt enthusiastically waved his arms, but otherwise he led by the notes. The result was a little messy at times. Vogt seemed a touch rushed, particularly in the long first movement. The Orchestre de chambre de Paris weren’t always spot on regarding ensemble, but this was not a problem here. Their heart in the music was definitely in the right place and rarely have I heard a performance that explored the range of moods and musical felicities in the score with such boldness and character. The result was pure joy.

Likewise, Schumann's Second Symphony, which is most definitely in a celebratory C major, sought out the energy and grandness in this, the greatest of the composer's works in the form. Nothing was routine about this performance and the ensemble was spot on, particularly in the fiendishly tricky Scherzo. The very long slow introduction was most beautifully handled and at a perfect tempo. The bubbling up into the Allegro was a delight. The Allegro itself was pushed forward but not driven nor hard-edged. The lengthy development section was shaped well with the tension under the C major surface exposed, reminding us that the composer was recovering from a breakdown and suicide attempt when he wrote the symphony and was determined to make a fresh start.

Lars Vogt conducts the Orchestre de chambre de Paris
© Philharmonie

In the slow movement, Schumann finds himself in his most tender territory. A rare beautiful moment of repose, which Vogt and the Parisian ensemble captured by means of subtle rubato, beautiful woodwind playing and purity in the string sound. The finale had all the fire and grandeur that it calls for. The glorious coda had just about the right touch of fragility, preventing it from sounding pompous. This is Schumann trying to persuade himself that all is well, when he must have been all too aware that more storms were just around the corner.


This performance was reviewed from the Philharmonie de Paris video stream

Watch the video here
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