Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Luisi @ Barbican Hall, London

19 June 2014

Fabio Luisi(Photo: Barbara Luisi)

Fabio Luisi
(Photo: Barbara Luisi)

With Valery Gergiev due to step down as Principal Conductor in 2015 and no successor yet announced, the London Symphony Orchestra’s schedule this year sees a large number of appearances by guest conductors, both familiar and new. This concert featured the orchestra’s first engagement with Fabio Luisi, who is currently both Principal Conductor the Metropolitan Opera and General Music Director of the Zurich Opera. The results were sufficiently impressive as to suggest that an ongoing partnership between Luisi and the LSO would be of mutual benefit to all concerned.

Luisi’s programme was generous too, featuring not only Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, but also Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23 in A major. French pianist Lise de la Salle, a regular collaborator with Luisi, delivered a compelling account of Mozart’s abundantly fertile score, the first movement jaunty and expressive, the second hushed and profound, the third fast paced and deftly articulated. Luisi drew crisp and refined playing from the orchestra, with woodwinds prominent throughout and phrasing that really breathed during the Adagio. The performance as a whole benefited from a feeling of collaboration between pianist and conductor.

Pairings of works by Mozart and Bruckner are hardly rare in concert programmes. However, Luisi’s choice of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony was distinguished by his use of the rarely played version of 1887. Bruckner subsequently revised the symphony after the celebrated conductor Hermann Levi – one of the composer’s most important champions – professed not to understand it. The revision that emerged in 1890 is generally considered to be superior and is the version invariably played today. However, Bruckner’s earlier version is an important musical document, the result of three years of work by a composer at the height of his creativity, and powerful symphonic experience in its own right.

Although the two versions are recognisably the same symphony, there are some significant differences between them, the most notable features of the original score being the triumphant coda of the first movement, the different arrangement of the Trio of the Scherzo, and the more protracted build up to the climax of the Adagio. The earlier version is also longer in all four movements and has a different orchestral palate, including a more extensive use of Wagner tubas.

Luisi’s performance of the symphony was one of the finest I’ve ever heard, conveying unforced musical tension from first to last, delivering climaxes of imposing power, suggestive of the infinite in quiet passages, and unifying the work’s many facets into a cumulative whole. Pacing, dynamics and balance were exemplary throughout, and a myriad of beauties along the way were revealed by the LSO’s cultured playing.

Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk.

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LSO/Luisi @ Barbican Hall, London