Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Ticciati @ Barbican Hall, London

15 March 2012

Robin Ticciati is one of those rare young conductors where the critical praise he receives is actually warranted by his abundant talent. He turns thirty next year, and is set to take up the post of Music Director at Glyndebourne in 2014. He also makes his debut at La Scala, Milan in May when he conducts Richard Jones’ new staging of Peter Grimes (a mouth-watering prospect), so his star is most definitely in the ascendant.

The programme he chose for his second assignment with the LSO had a sense of ‘resignation’ about it — some might argue that programming Strauss’ Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) alongside Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), would hardly make for an exhilarating first half, and indeed they didn’t. Nor should they. Strauss’ early tone poem, in many ways a strange assignment for the twenty-five year old composer, certainly looks at death as being far from valedictory. There was a sense of luminosity to this measured performance from the outset, shimmering strings, baleful horns and poignant woodwind combining to create a sense of the ethereal. Ticciati’s pacing and grasp of the architecture of the work were never in doubt, and the LSO rewarded him with polished playing, with some particularly thrilling work from the brass department.

Mahler’s song cycle Kindertotenlieder is so raw and personal that listening to it in performance often feels like a personal intrusion. The scoring is bare and bleak, there’s precious little colour in it and the demands it makes of its performers are equal to those of the audience. Christopher Maltman was the noble soloist but his voice didn’t sound particularly fresh, and it lacked colour — there’s precious little orchestral palette to play with, so more is required of the soloist than Maltman was able to deliver. Ticciati supported him well enough, and the playing of the LSO was beyond fault.

Brahms’ less-serious side was on display after the interval and although it would be unfair to say his Symphony No 2 in D Major is a barrel of laughs, there’s certainly plenty of sunshine in the score. I didn’t feel that the orchestra was as engaged with Ticciati here as it had been in the previous two works. There was a sense of detachment which didn’t sit easily with the piece. The third movement had colossal guts and drive, and the finale was properly exhilarating, yet Ticciati’s grasp seemed less sure than previously. Nevertheless he has far more talent than another over-hyped young conductor who springs to mind, so here’s hoping that he becomes a regular guest with the LSO.

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

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