The American pianist Nicholas Angelich remains a bit of an enigma – which, I suppose, is a euphemism for inconsistent. Schumann’s Piano Concerto is a gift for the soloist and an orchestra, moving naturally from music of intimate charm to eruptions of guileless optimism. It’s symphonic, but never loses touch with Schumann’s unique domain of fantasy and innocence. Angelich had the start absolutely right, a bright, assertive opening dissolving into musing lyricism, but thereafter Schumann’s division of musical personalities took up rather entrenched positions. The confident music became hectoring – the cadenza unattractively so – and over-emphatic, as though this was a romantic concerto from central casting, with the gentler passages failing to make their links in this tightly cohesive work. There were moments of undeniable delicacy and strength in Angelich’s playing, but Schumann’s poetic, exuberant generosity was in rather short supply. I’ve noticed these extremes in Angelich’s playing before, as though he wasn’t sure about the degree of projection to apply, with the result that a nuance becomes an event, an event an overburdened statement. Another result was that this performance felt rather generic, despite the LSO’s detailed and attentive role, guided by Daniel Harding, and with a worrying lack of personality.
It was a pleasure to hear Bruckner’s Sixth, something of a poor relation to the symphonies that follow. Why this should be so is a mystery – the first movement is Bruckner at his most open, with moments of genius – the thrillingly dramatic recapitulation that doffs its cap to the same moment in Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’; and a coda that is staggeringly simple and original in gesture and sublime in impact. These elements and its serene tunes, underpinned by a Morse-like rhythmic persistence, may explain why many conductors take this movement at a more deliberate pace than the impulsive one adopted by Harding. There was no loss of detail or tension, but the brooding quality of the elemental main tune was rather diminished. Again, many performances end up by focusing on the first movement’s easily followed structure, mainly because the finale is such a tough nut, structurally, to crack. Harding’s reading threw unusual weight on the last movement, and he went a long way to drawing its seemingly disparate elements together, letting them speak to and alter each other into a coherent direction. It was a particular pleasure to hear this process of change and development being achieved with such skill and unswerving fidelity to the score. Brucknerians must have been totally immersed in the lovely Adagio, from Juan Pechuan Ramirez’s beautifully played oboe lament to the meticulously graded approaches to and retreats from the climaxes, none of them in the apocalyptic league of the last three symphonies – and, as in the first movement, this slow one has a ravishing coda, the playing of which summed up Bruckner’s time-arresting, glowing brand of regret and remoteness. Daniel Harding’s approach got as near as the music allowed to being revelatory and certainly deepened our appreciation of it.