Tod und Verklärung, Op.24
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73
Christopher Maltman (baritone)
London Symphony Orchestra
Barbican Hall, London
Thursday, March 15, 2012
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This was the second time the 29-year-old Robin Ticciati, who becomes Glyndebourne’s music director in January 2014, has conducted the LSO. There was a strong sense of occasion to welcome this seemingly modest, certainly hugely talented young musician. Mentored by Colin Davis and Simon Rattle, Ticciati shares the disarming clarity of their conducting style and their love and knowledge of sound. The result is music-making of great freshness and maturity, the sort that really pins your ears back. Ticciati is a complete natural, who doesn’t get in the way of the music. Of course, it helped that he had the LSO at his disposal, so that he could express the different soundworlds of three closely connected composers with such compelling thoroughness.
The heart-beat may be faltering at the opening of Richard Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung, but it didn’t deter Ticciati from delivering a heart-on-sleeve performance with moments of Hollywood-style sumptuousness. The end-of-life start, with liquid flutes just about sustaining an evanescent presence as the music gathers into some sort of definition, was truly ear-bending. Ticciati’s approach to the statements of Strauss’s ‘big tune’ had Sibelian grandeur and inevitability. He embraced Strauss’s epic, operatic flamboyance without a shred of self-conscious indulgence – this ‘death and transfiguration’ was an awfully big adventure.
Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) has a very different approach to loss. Ticciati and Christopher Maltman reminded us why these five songs need to be approached with the utmost caution – a performance can easily turn a corner into bathos. Not even a hideously intrusive mobile phone ringtone at the start of the first setting could unpick the sense of bewildered desolation that seeped through the cycle. The quality of the LSO’s playing and its supernatural responsiveness were enhanced by Ticciati’s incredible attention to detail. Every element of this sparse score was painfully exposed, and the way in which individual instruments shadowed Maltman’s extremes of expression and tone with pointillist flecks of colour and pitch was music-making of a very high degree. Maltman generated an exhaustion way beyond the drama of high-definition grief, penetrating the emptiness of the songs with predominantly quiet, unflinching directness, and singing with the sort of immediacy that makes you think that you are the only person in the audience. It was a remarkable, harrowing performance.
Sunny isn’t a word often associated with Brahms, but is certainly appropriate for Ticciati’s flowing and genial reading of the Second Symphony. There was a tactful ease to his conducting, with luminous textures underpinning the music’s lyricism, in whose favour he played down the more strenuous development passages.