Pieces by Peter Maxwell Davies, Brahms and Walton made for an exciting, not to mention beautifully played, concert from the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Antonio Pappano.
It opened with Maxwell Davies’ Fanfare: Her Majesty’s Welcome, written in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee. The piece was commissioned by the LSO to allow its own wind, brass and percussion sections to play alongside young people of various ages and abilities. In this instance, the ‘second orchestra’ was provided by LSO on Track, which comprises musicians from the Guildhall School.
So many ‘youngsters’ packing tightly into the upper tiers of the Barbican stage created a striking image, and the piece, which creates a ‘dialogue’ between the two orchestras, was played with fine attention to balance. The most notable features of the Fanfare were its often irregular pulses, and the predominance of B-flat and D-flat (albeit offset by a ‘brighter’ section in D major). The consequence was a piece that, through Maxwell Davies’ own skills, possessed all of the instant appeal of a standard fanfare, but also a great many layers and points of interest.
The opening Allegro non troppo to Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 saw the LSO create a sound of great smoothness and subtlety. The strings were possessed of a particularly rounded quality, which combined well with the refinement of the wind sound.
Soloist Janine Jansen brought a sense of involvement and depth of emotion to the piece that proved thrilling to witness. At the same time, however, this was not an overtly brash performance and the volume levels she adopted saw her sound rise just above that of the orchestra so that we had this intriguing sense of unity with the larger group. Similarly, though the performance was highly visceral, the purity of her basic technique combined with the vibrant nuances she brought to every line to produce a very beautiful sound. Her cadenza proved brilliant, as did her efforts to generate the required sense of dialogue with the orchestra. Particular mention should also be made of the wind playing and oboe solo in the Adagio, and Jansen’s ability to combine precision with excitement in the various ‘Hungarian gypsy’ figurations in the closing Allegro giocoso.
After the interval, the orchestra’s performance of Walton’s Symphony No. 1 in B-flat minor saw Pappano demonstrate a deep understanding of the mechanics of, and nuances in, the symphony, without ever losing sight of the work’s expansive elements. With its deft handling of the four motifs in the Allegro assai, the cross-rhythms in the Scherzo, the soaring lines of the Andante con malincolia and the rousing drama inherent in the finale, the orchestra did full justice to what has, quite reasonably, been dubbed Walton’s masterpiece.
The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 on 30 January and will be available on iPlayer for a week.
Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk.