Mahler’s Fourth Symphony – London Symphony Orchestra

Sunday 25th January,
The Barbican Centre, London

A glittering program of virtuoso performances, the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance on Sunday was quite a treat. The program opened with Blossoming II by Toshio Hosokawa – a work of shimmering simplicity and beauty. Starting with a single, sustained note, the music grew in elegant ripples inspired by the way in which lotus blossoms come into flower. The orchestra played with sophistication and poise, drawing breath as one. Here, conductor Robin Ticciani was in his element, and this performance rather stole the show for its elegance, ensemble and artistic vision.

By contrast, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major sparkled with the virtuosity of individuals. Simon Trpceski is a deft performer whose deep understanding of the music gave rise to a dancing rendition that fulling embraced the composer’s jazzy inflections. The second movement was particularly memorable – with subtly rendered phrases passed elegantly between piano and wind soloists. Though Trpceski’s rousing duet with leader Roman Simovic was undoubtedly the audience’s favourite encore, mention must also be made of the beautifully lyrical, almost understated Poulenc.

Orchestra and conductor alike seemed to enjoy Malher’s Fourth Symphony immensely, performing with energy and vigour thoughout. Woodwinds and principal horn Timothy Jones played with striking colours and seamless cohesion. While it seemed that things came momentarily unstuck at the end of the third movement, mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill’s agile voice brought a new layer to the finale portraying a child’s view of heaven. Sunlight and shadows, doubt and glorious affirmation, before the final note shimmered and faded into silence.

The Heat and the Passion of the Mediterranean – London Symphony Orchestra

Sunday 18th January,
The Barbican Centre, London

Wow! Sunday night at the Barbican Centre was one of those rare concerts where every single note was pulsating with energy and vibrancy. From the first chord of Verdi’s Force of Destiny Overture to the final flourish of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Cappricio Espagnol, the London Symphony Orchestra were a phenomenal musical force. The focal point of this raw passion was undoubtedly conductor Xian Zhang, whose presence on the podium seemed to constantly push the ensemble to greater heights and often tempos.

The aptly-named Force of Destiny Overture showcased an impressive blend of orchestral sound, particularly in the woodwinds. There is an elusive moment when flute, clarinet, oboe and bassoon combine to give a shimmering unified colour that seems more than the sum of the parts, and the principal winds of the LSO seemed to slip in and out of this state with utter ease. The orchestral sound as a whole was crisp and sparkling, with technically difficult passages in the strings ringing out with amazing clarity.

Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, the centrepiece of the exhilarating program, was an emotional rollercoaster. Ukranian pianist Valentina Lisitsa played with amazing dexterity and attention to detail, ensuring that even the densest passages rang out. The work was described at its premiere as one that “left its listeners frozen with fright, hair standing on end”, and this performance captured that feeling of terror bordering on fantastical. The Intermezzo – one moment eerily grotesque, the next whimsical – was a particular highlight.

Following the interval it was party time, though Zhang and the orchestra instilled both Manuel de Falla’s Three Dances from ‘The Three-Cornered Hat’ (Suite No. 2) and Cappricio Espagnol with dramatic energy rather than carefree. Christine Pendrill’s cor anglais in the de Falla was rich and round, and the orchestra’s technical precision and intense trust as an ensemble allowed the music to sparkle and dance.

Bravo LSO – the concert was deservedly packed and quite a stunner!