Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LPO/Saraste @ Royal Festival Hall, London

16 December 2010

Southbank Centre

Royal Festival Hall (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

It is a rare thing indeed to find Martinu and Nielsen cohabiting a concert, but the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s continued dedication to enterprising programming brought two of these continually underperformed composers into the spotlight.

In the event the Nielsen his Fifth Symphony proved far more effective than the Czech composer’s Second Violin Concerto, which flickered frequently without ever fully catching fire.

In no way was this due to the contribution of the excellent Frank Peter Zimmermann, whose passionate initial declaration was matched by slow music of grace and beauty. Nor was conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste at fault, despite the use of a somewhat strange conducting style that might have confused the beat for a lesser orchestra.

The suspicion remained, therefore, that the concerto remained merely a good Martinu work than a fully convincing one, broken up by unexpected cadences and interjections of pace. The beautiful textures proved enough to keep the listener happy in the short term, but ultimately we were left wanting more.

This was not the case with the Nielsen, which received a spotlit performance of terrific verve. At times Saraste’s foot leaned too heavily on the accelerator, but he nonetheless brought home the drama of the first movement as it unfolded, the side drum ricochets, crashing timpani and cacophonous woodwind three symptoms of the turmoil.

This is most likely the most performed of the composer’s six works in the form, but for a good reason, its utterly emphatic ending well earned in half an hour of raw symphonic drama.

While the inclusion of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture was questionable when given this relatively routine performance, Julian Anderson’s The Stations Of The Sun was anything but.

Recently named as the London Philharmonic’s ‘Composer In Residence’, Anderson writes for orchestra using vivid brush strokes, and this, his calling card so far in an already distinguished line of works, resonated to the wonderful sounds of the percussion department, with bells, gongs and drums all employed. Saraste enjoyed the music as he might that of his fellow Finn, Magnus Lindberg, and with new work The Crazed Moon due to be premiered in March 2011, Anderson’s star continues to be on the rise.

Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk

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