This LSO concert at first sight seemed oddly programmed, yet its narrative became clear and it worked. Darkness-to-light Beethoven can generate elemental power, Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration brings end-of-the-tunnel light, and the ‘Closing Scene’ of Capriccio is a glorious paean to words and music.
In Beethoven’s Fifth, that universally familiar opening motto was launched into with arresting drive, Nikolaj Znaider’s huge frame equally as dominant. The lack of concession to the period-performance brigade was obvious, and the symphonic outlook was clear, but it was all rather clean, airbrushed studio-quality, the music too polished, lacking in rawness, though one marvelled at the brilliance of the LSO throughout. Flashes of Beethoven’s genius were brought out: the transition from pizzicato to bowing during the transition from Scherzo to Finale (the latter without the repeat) was unnerving, and the building-up of tension similarly so. The closing blaze had propulsion but lacked that frenetic energy that mark out the greatest performances of this music.
An orchestra transformed – forgive the word – returned after the interval for the music of Richard Strauss. Glistening details abounded in Death and Transfiguration (also a C-minor to C-major piece), the music luminous and offering reflection and prayer. The faltering opening, our hero’s struggles with holding-on to life, then powerful struggles, final nostalgia before death – all lead to a majestic ascending. This was a moving account, the musicians giving a vision to the music that filled the Hall with glory.
An indisposed Soile Isokoski (a respiratory infection – I wish her a full recovery) allowed Anne Schwanewilms the ‘Closing Scene’ of Strauss’s “conversation piece” that is Capriccio (which proved to be his operatic summation), in which the age-old debate of whether an opera’s poetry or its music is the more important is discussed, and where the central character is the Countess. Again, the playing shimmered, heralded by Vittorio Schiavone’s exquisite horn solo, the strings similarly melting into Schwanewilms’s seductive soprano. One of Strauss’s ‘endgames’ was here made generous, and this concert was Strauss’s triumph.