This was a hugely rewarding concert, unusually programmed but winningly realised by the LSO, under the direction of relative unknown Andrey Boreyko. Born in St Petersburg, the conductor justified his billing in the concert notes as ‘exciting and dynamic’, his presentation a slightly suave, ‘because I’m worth it’ hairstyle, his musicality there for all to see.
To begin with Shostakovich’s first symphonic utterance seemed uncommonly apt, given the raised profile this composer will enjoy over the next fourteen months, the centenary of his birth imminent. It was not an easy start for the players to deal with though, the economy of the scoring exposing solo lines early in the argument. They were comfortably dealt with, clarinet and bassoon particularly deserving of their ovations at the end.
Boreyko took the whirligig scherzo at a good pace, with scurrying violins together as one and the piano taking its spoiling role at the close with aplomb. A searching slow movement featured a beautifully phrased oboe solo with just one minor blemish, and as it neared a ghostly conclusion the snare drum intervened, its crescendo startling the audience. Boreyko’s way with rubato in this and other movements was tasteful, a kindred spirit with the music in evidence.
In the year Shostakovich started his First Symphony, Bela Bartok was completing his Miraculous Mandarin suite, and this was the tour de force with which the evening ended. A strongly characterised performance pitted the cacophony of the street against the languor of the clarinet ‘cadenzas’, all superbly played by John Stenhouse, and the second accompanied by intoxicated slithering on trombone, cor anglais and cellos.
Boreyko handled the frequent tempo shifts well, assisted by the superb ensemble, who threw out the blistering fugal passage to the obvious delight of the conductor, as he thrashed around wildly on the podium.
Centrally programmed, and centre stage, was the violinist Leonidas Kavakos, who gave a technically flawless and lyrical performance of Dvorak’s sunny concerto. It’s clear Kavakos plays his violin for sheer pleasure, the instrument an extension of his body as he handled the bow with the same ease that you or I would wield a pen. The music was completely under his spell, the gorgeous tone he produced coupled with a lithe, acrobatic handling of the faster music, bringing a spring to the step of this hugely uplifting and tuneful music.
The opening of the finale, Kavakos grinning at the first violins as they punched out the theme in unison, was worth the journey alone.