Munich: Escaich’s “Etudes symphoniques” in the Isarphilharmonie – Munich

The Isarphilharmonie was opened with his “Arising Dances”, and in April 2024 the Philharmonic will premiere his new violin concerto with Renaud Capuçon. In between, Thierry Escaich’s “Etudes symphoniques” was heard at the same location under Dima Slobodeniouk with the confident Seong-Jin Cho on the piano. At least as far as the name is concerned, there is a great model: the “Symphonic Etudes” by Robert Schumann.

Here as there, the piano plays the main role, in Schumann’s case it is a soloist, while in Escaich’s case it has a large orchestra at his side. Not only because the four movements flow into one another, the whole thing seems like a large organism that continually redefines the relationship between solo instrument and orchestra, only sometimes pushing the pianist acoustically into the background in the finale. That sounds exciting and original at every moment. It is a veritable, excellently crafted, grateful piano concerto that contains virtuoso passages as well as a lyrical piano intermezzo in the center, surrounded only by strings. The finale is a “toccata” which is also rhythmically very accentuated, not least thanks to the syncopated shifted metric.

One would have preferred to hear these “Etudes” again after the break, then it would have been possible to understand the individual parts, such as the passacaglia of the first movement, in detail. The variations of the opening piano chords, which serve as a leitmotif throughout the work, would also have been clearer.

But another major work on the program was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. And here too, Dima Slobodeniouk, who stood in for Semyon Bychkov, demonstrated a very precise and calm organizing hand, never allowing himself to be tempted by the sometimes exuberant nature of this symphony to push things. The Philharmonic thanked him with great precision and a relaxed sound.

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