That Liszt once compared the second movement of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 to the story of Orpheus taming the Furies is apparently apocryphal: There is no record of Liszt saying or writing such a thing and the story probably originates with Donald Francis Tovey's essay on the piece.
But the fact that this metaphor has taken such hold in the imagination -- you cannot read a set of program notes without an account of it -- proves how apt a description it is. The piano's yielding, pleading phrases do indeed conquer the fierce, stentorian cries of the orchestra: It is Beethoven at his most operatic.
The performance of pianist Bryan Ganz with conductor Leon Fleisher and the Peabody Symphony Orchestra last night in Friedberg Hall failed to capture this element of the concerto and failed at much else beside. Ganz played the opening phrases of the slow movement much too quickly and did not establish a dialogue with conductor and orchestra. When the end of the movement came, with the orchestra's fury finally vanquished and the piano's energy spent, one felt that nothing had happened to create such a resolution.
Ganz is a talented pianist -- he has won several top prizes in major competitions -- but often the only evidence of that talent last night was an ability to negotiate the notes of the first movement and finale accurately and cleanly. There were serious musical mishaps in the spurts of speed that occasionally left both conductor and orchestra behind. The student orchestra played valiantly under Fleisher, who -- of course -- knows this concerto well. But there was some annoyingly out-of-tune playing in the strings and some sounds (in the final movement) from the horns and oboes that had to be heard to be believed.
The rest of the concert was better. Brahms' "Tragic Overture" was played with a good deal of feeling and with the tensile strength that Fleisher brings to almost all music, whether as conductor or pianist: Every phrase kept the ear in expectation and led inevitably to the next.
The second half of the concert was all Ravel. Fleisher led a deeply felt account of "Pavane for a Dead Princess" in memory of Ruth Rosenberg, who died late last week. And he concluded the concert with the "Rhapsodie Espagnole," which he conducted with flair, exuberance and color. Only the end failed to come off. The players did not seem to understand what Fleisher was asking, and the effect was that of a firecracker that failed to explode.