I had the great good fortune to hear Maria João Pires in concert last night, performing Beethoven’s 2nd Piano Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra under Bernard Haitink. Pires is one of a handful of pianists working today whose performances are always worth seeking out, even if she is performing something you really didn’t think you liked. I’ve always felt fairly ambivalent about Beethoven’s 2nd Piano Concerto, for instance, having previously written it off as ‘the boring one’ – despite the number, it is the earliest of Beethoven’s concertos, the least revolutionary, the least packed with good tunes or Beethovenian touches. But Pires played as though it was the greatest concerto ever written, and for the length of her performance, that’s exactly what it felt like.
As if further proof of her consummate artistry were needed, a friend has just forwarded me this remarkable video, in which you can see the horror on her face as she realises the orchestra has begun playing a different Mozart concerto to the one she was expecting. This isn’t during a rehearsal either – this is during the concert itself. Conductor Riccardo Chailly assures her it will all be all right and, with some considerable effort, she manages to gather herself together during the orchestral introduction, before beginning what sounds like a typically beautiful account of K.466.
What an incredible artist. And what luck she wasn’t supposed to be playing Beethoven’s Fourth.