Elizabeth Sombart and the RPO celebrating Beethoven for Words and Music

Elizabeth Sombart and the RPO celebrating Beethoven for Words & Music
Elizabeth Sombart played Beethoven Concertos n.1 and 5 with the principals of the RPO for Words and Music .
With her regal presence she looked like and Egyptian Princess but played like a celestial
It has been many years since I have heard Elizabeth Sombart since the day she played in the Ghione Theatre in Rome.
So it was such a great surprise to see her on her way to rehearse for the evening concert at St Giles’ Cripplegate.
And even more surprising that she remembered so well that concert in Rome.

Elizabeth Sombart with the same same regal resemblance of that other Elizabeth ………Schwarzkopf!
Nicola Losito had been keeping the piano warm for her with his remarkable lunchtime concert for the same series of Words & Music in collaboration with the Keyboard Charitable Trust.
Playing on a very fine sounding new Bechstein piano on loan from Terry Lewis of Jaques Samuel.
We had noted with Nicola Losito such crystalline sounds and sumptuous bass all signs that the made the old Bechstein a favourite amongst great pianists of the past.
The Wigmore Hall was infact named  the Bechstein Hall before the first world war.
But a piano does not play itself (at least not in this case) and it is very much the artistry of who is at the helm that can reveal all the kaleidoscopic secrets that are hidden in this box of strings and hammers.
It was these secrets that were revealed in this chamber performance of two of the Beethoven Piano Concertos.
The First and the last, the mighty “ Emperor.”
There was an acute sense of balance and sensitivity between the piano of Elizabeth Sombart and the superb strings of Duncan Riddell,Andrew Storey,Abigail Fenna,Richard Harwood and David Gordon – all principals of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Such a conversation between musicians listening so carefully to each other in a musical give and take of real mutual anticipation that is rare indeed.
Playing with the score it was a group of equals.
No longer a battle between soloist and orchestra as is so often the case.
Even in the Emperor one was hardly aware that there were only six players where normally it is forty to one!
It allowed for such a subtle and refined sense of rubato that was so unexpected in scores we have listened to for a lifetime.
There were moments of sublime beauty that almost took our breath away.
Such moments that only Rubinstein or Gelber would have dared to seek with only a couple of rehearsal with a symphony orchestra.
Moments of pure magic in the first movement of the first concerto (that was actually the second to be written).
Moments where the piano took just a little extra time to allow Beethoven’s gems to shine as is so rarely possible.
Slowing the tempo very slightly but then immediately followed by an injection of brilliance.
The final few notes of the first concerto were drawn out with such crystalline beauty you could feel the audience being drawn along on this wonderfully flexible wave of sound.
This of course was only possible because of the extraordinarily attentive string players.

The Complete Beethoven Concertos in the Series with the RPO for the 250th celebrations of the birth of Beethoven
The Emperor concerto too that could so easily in lesser hands have suffered from lack of orchestral sound.
There were the great declamations from the piano and startlingly robust octaves.But all within an overall sound world that fitted so perfectly and allowed the musical line to develop so naturally.
The slow movement without the wind entry was even more sublime that with the full orchestra.The simple scales played with just the same inflection that had the orchestra applauding Rubinstein in the rehearsals almost fifty years ago.
The final movements of the two concertos were played with all the rhythmic energy that we are used to.
What it might  just have missed in overall sound was more than compensated for by the driving spirit of these remarkable musicians.
The drum at the end of the Emperor sustained by the double bass and the final flourish heralded a true call to victory for this extraordinary “Empress.”
Performances and recordings of the concertos are planned for the 250th anniversary celebrations with the complete RPO in the Cadogan Hall in London .
This performance tonight was indeed a call to arms !

With a young admirer Daniel the grandson of the renowned musician Philip Pilkington due to play the Emperor on friday.

Philip Pilkington in the green room to congratulate Mme Sombart on the beauty of her perfomances.

The regal presence of an Egyptian Empress indeed


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