The scheduling of a performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony by the London Symphony Orchestra on the same evening as a performance of his Eighth Symphony by the Philharmonia was less than helpful for people with an interest in the composer and who might have wanted to see both. It also meant that the Barbican and the Southbank were potentially competing with each other for the same customers. Fortunately, the Barbican was well attended on this occasion, no doubt attracted by the fact that popular pianist Maria João Pires was on hand for a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 9.
Before the concerto performance, however, was the premiere of a new piece called Windows by the young composer James Moriarty. Written in connection with the LSO Discovery Panufnik Composers Scheme, Windows is a short work for full orchestra that combines a series of musical fragments written for different sections of the orchestra. It was good to see Moriarty’s orchestration eschew the battery of percussion so often found in contemporary scores and instead focus on the development of colour and texture, his writing even occasionally hinting at Sibelius, albeit without the latter’s melodic appeal. Apart from an unexpectedly abrupt ending, it was an enjoyable piece, expertly played by the LSO under conductor Daniel Harding.
For the first movement at least, Pires was the dominant musical partner in Mozart’s Ninth Piano Concerto, the orchestral contribution perfectly rendered but slightly lacking in warmth. The Andantino saw a closer alignment between the delicacy of Pires’ keyboard work and the sensitivity of the orchestral playing, with oboes and strings particularly expressive. Best of the all was the finale, the playfulness of the music projected by piano and orchestra alike. The programme was originally due to feature Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 1. As partial compensation for change in repertoire, Pires gave a performance of Chopin’s Nocturne No 3 in B major as an encore, which was beautiful.
Harding’s performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, using the Nowak edition of the 1878/80 version, was mostly very fine. It was unfortunate that the opening horn solo suffered from a couple of slips, as the rest of the first movement was otherwise well paced and full of energy, the climaxes given a solid underpinning by the vigorous timpani playing of Nigel Thomas. The chorale at the centre of the movement was wonderfully majestic, the massed brass evoking the sonorities of the organ music which was an important part of Bruckner’s musical life. The Andante, too, was a model of pacing and atmosphere, with lovely playing by the ‘cellos and violas. However, the Scherzo suffered from overly loud trumpets, which drowned out the horns at certain points, and there was a lack of sustained tension in the finale, a difficult movement to bring off. Fortunately, the transition to the coda was superbly managed, Harding bringing the symphony to a grand and exciting conclusion.