Conducting instead of Anti-Wrinkle Cream

Marriner (EPA/Archiv)A perfect Mozart and a Beethoven free of steamrolling with the irrepressible Sir Neville Marriner, the poetic soloist Paul Lewis and the splendid Vienna Chamber Orchestra

28.04.2016 | 19:07 | by Helmar Dumbs (

Anti-wrinkle cream, Buerlecithin, exercises: all well and good but it is obviously music that keeps you young, particularly conducting.  One thinks of Georges Prêtre (91) or even Sir Neville Marriner who, at 92, appeared in the Konzerthaus on Wednesday as a guest on the conductor’s podium of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra.  And it was not at all a concert, as a colleague once phrased it, that needed to be “heard by the memory”.  Anyone who closed their eyes would have attributed this Beethoven’s 7th, bubbling with freshness, light-footed and elastic (with absolutely no feeling of steamrolling in the fourth movement) to a youthful conductor. This was largely a question of the tempo, although not through senseless hustle and bustle.

What has been especially fascinating about this conductor over the decades is his unfailing feel for a suitable tempo.  Once this has been found, a lot falls into place naturally.  Then, and only then, one thinks that in a movement like the second of Beethoven’s A Major Symphony, which under Marriner acquires a subcutaneous and positive restlessness, the character of this piece has actually been revealed for the first time.


Stroked Piano Tones
A significant ingredient is the transparency and balance that Marriner can form his Beethoven with – because the Vienna Chamber Orchestra provides him with the appropriate basis.  The instrumentation is small enough that the winds do not disappear under a carpet of strings while big enough to fill the Konzerthaus hall with a decent Beethoven forte.  One can constantly sense how these musicians are used to listening to each other as if playing chamber music, even when in the orchestra.  Because of this, details of the score, which otherwise remain unheard, emerge effortlessly in relief.  If this does not already exist, a guest conductor cannot conjure it up in a few days.

There was magic, however, already in the first part of Mozart’s intimate A Major Piano Concerto, K. 414.  It is not a brilliant “Watch out! Here I come!” work but rather one whose qualities really unfold under the hands of a keyboard poet like Paul Lewis.   He literally strokes the tones out of the keys with a tremendously soft touch, nonetheless not at the expense of substance.

The handwriting of his teacher Alfred Brendel can be recognized above all in the poised overview of the whole work.  Every element has a meaningful relation in its effect on the others.  And so Lewis, Marriner and the Chamber Orchestra, lovingly phrasing every apparently unassuming accompanying line, present the audience with a perfectly-polished gem.  With a feeling for an appropriate encore, Lewis expressed his gratitude for the hearty reception with Schubert’s Allegretto in c minor.

Translation by John Allan Moffatt