Sep 24, 2011
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A couple of months ago Belfast pianist Barry Douglas played Mozart’s A major Concerto (K488) in the city’s St Peter’s Cathedral, with his orchestra Camerata. Last night Liverpool–born Paul Lewis played the same piece, at the Ulster Orchestra’s season–opening concert in the Waterfront, with one added ingredient – a conductor.
Why does Douglas do without one? Does it make any real difference? It does, I think. BD would probably argue that his approach is the more historically authentic: Mozart wrote his concertos to be directed from the keyboard (usually by the composer personally), and there’s no doubt that this creates a more immediate rapport between soloist and orchestral players, who need to watch each other very closely to prevent the wheels falling off the performance wagon.
Doing away with a conductor can also encourage more spontaneity of musical interaction between orchestral players and soloist – there’s no middle–man (or woman) with a baton to go through, it’s straightforward dialogue, not mediated, smoothed–over communication.
Both approaches are possible, both can yield excellent interpretations.
My summary of these two performances would be:
 DOUGLAS – ebullient, unpredictable, perky, cheeky, occasionally scrappy.
 LEWIS – poised, elegant, cultured, beautifully polished, not very witty.
You pays your money and you takes your Mozart, as you like it. My own preference would be for Douglas. Others may beg to differ.