At the Tchaikovsky Competition this summer, the Brazilian legend Nelson Freire walked off the piano jury with, one other member told me, ‘a face like a shroud’. He was seriously ill, and Valery Gergiev was deeply concerned.
Last night Gergiev conducted Freiere at the opening of the London Symphony Orchestra season at the Barbican, with sensational results. Freire, seldmom heard in London in recent years, gave a performance of Brahms’s second piano concerto, that called Arthur Rubinstein to mind. Both sit quite still at the piano and let their fingers do the walking.
Freire has an attitude of introspection that invites the listener into his sound world. The playing is light with few heavy fffs and there are sparkles of Rubi-like mischiefs of rubato that keep the orchestra alert. But the seriousness of purpose is unmistakable and the performance unforgettable.
The small, humble virtuoso seemed embarrased by the subsequent ovation. Gergiev had to give him a friendly push in the back to propel him once more into the limelight for a glittering ovation – a rare, unnamed, airing of a melody from Gluck’s Orfeo.
Nelson’s back, and the world is all the better for that.
photo: Benjamin Ealovega