I heard this very piano concerto at the Cultural Centre during the Schumann Festival not so long ago when the soloist was the very young Chinese American Zhang Haoche. Their interpretation of the piano concerto was so different: with Zhang, it was nimble, quick, crisp powerful and flowing by turns. With Pires, its all delicacy, nuances and her very personal poetic feelings. Very different indeed. That's the magic of interpretation. Af first, I thought she lacked a little power at the fortissimo passages but when I learned that she is almost 70, that gave me a completely different view of her "power". Her power did not reside in the brute physical force of one's fingers on the key board of that percussive instrument but in that of her musical soul!
The concert however did not begin with her concerto. It started with Felix Mendelssohn's Overture in C, Op 101, often called the Trumpet Overture because of the prominent role given to that instrument, a kind of symphonic poem, full of power, grace and mystery.
The atmosphere after the intermission changes abruptly. It was time for Anton Webern's 5 movements for strings: a very personal piece he wrote first as a quintet in 1909 in memory of his mother who died 3 years previously. He only converted it into an orchestral piece some 20 years later for a string orchestra. I don't know why, listening to it, the image of Webern wandering with a candle in hand on a sleepless night, rummaging through the personal effects of his mother in the family cellar suddenly appeared in my mind. It appeared that the would be turning over a laced doll here, a fancy fan there, some old dresses, some yellowing black and white photograph with inexplicable noises suddenly making a brief appearance and as quickly disappearing, hoping somehow that doing so, the memory of his dear mother would become clearer. It felt as if any moment, a ghost or a spirit of his mother would appear behind the old discarded furniture there. I don't know what kind of feelings or impressions the music would produce in others. That's what I felt at the concert hall.
Our last piece of the evening was another one of Schumann's compositions, his Symphony No. 2 in C Op. 61 (1846) In this piece, the SCO seems to come into its own with a full array of its brass winds put to action. In the earlier pieces, perhaps owing to the relatively small number of first and second violins, the cellos and double-basses seem to figure a bit too prominently in the overall texture of the orchestral sound, rendering it a bit "slow" and "sluggish" even in passages when the sound ought to be quick, crisp, sharp and choppy. This is a work in which Schumann was valiantly battling with his impending mental breakdown. One hears the dark forces at work in his psyche in his Adagio. But he came through and the symphony ended in a burst of triumphal sound.