Currentzis makes his point in Frankfurt

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Stella Lorenz reviews a concert charged with emotion

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Nikolai LuganskyPicture: Alte Oper Frankfurt/Wolfgang Runkel

Greek conductor Teodor Currentzis has added his voice to the widespread protests against the proposed move to combine the SWR Symphony Orchestra with the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart.

Speaking at a SWR Symphony Orchestra concert in Frankfurt, Currentzis said that the move overlooked the fact that the orchestras have their 'own identification, their own sound. The SWR Symphony Orchestra for instance is the best orchestra in the world for contemporary music.'

Currentzis's words were by no means delivered to rows of empty seats. It’s one thing to fill the 2,500 seats of Frankfurt’s concert hall Alte Oper. To fill them on a Sunday night when there is so much else going on (in this particular case the premiere of Enescu’s Oedipe at the Oper Frankfurt) is definitely another. I, for one, was glad not to have been at the opera but to hear a splendid concert with all the right components: a great orchestra, an effusive yet capable conductor and an inspired pianist.

The SWR Symphony Orchestra performed a programme of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto, Wagner’s Overture and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde and Prokofiev’s phenomenal Seventh Symphony, which were all beautifully played by the SWR Symphony Orchestra. Currentzis, ever the eccentric, showed up in thick black tights and leather boots.

Holding a constant tension during the Wagner pieces, he managed to get the most out of the orchestra: smooth transitions, precise cues, remarkable intensity. I thoroughly enjoyed the buoyancy of both the playing and the pieces’ characteristics. And at a glance, pianist Nikolai Lugansky looks the polar opposite of Currentzis, so I was surprised by how well they worked together musically in the Beethoven Concerto.

The Russian soloist, who has recently been awarded the ECHO Klassik and who received a BBC Music Magazine Award in 2011, played with a refreshing lack of ego, sounding clear yet emotional without it ever being too much. There was a naturalness about Lugansky’s technically impeccable playing which made the music stand out, not the performer. 'Currentzis has so many ideas and the orchestra is always integrated into the generation of new ones. It was absolutely perfect for this kind of music', Lugansky said of the orchestra in an interview on the radio stations SWR2.

Currentzis's speech came shortly after conducting Prokofiev's Seventh. The concert came to a close with an ad-hoc rendition of the Symphony’s ending and Prokofiev’s ‘Dance of the Knights’ from Romeo and Juliet as an encore.

Nikolai Lugansky will be performing Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto in London at the Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Pablo Heras-Casado on 9 March 2014.