Frenchman Alain Altinoglu (of Armenian descent) is currently in his first season as principal conductor of the Monnaie in Brussels, and this was his LSO debut, opening with a rare chance to hear Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes. Written in 1919 for clarinet, piano and string quartet, Prokofiev orchestrated it in 1934. It’s one of his lighter pieces, incorporating a Yiddish wedding song and a dance. Altinoglu pared down the LSO, and the pointed articulation was as light as air; woodwind solos were beautifully characterful.
Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto of 1959 comes with quite a performance history, dominated by Mstislav Rostropovich. Gautier Capuçon shied away from trying to match the great man, instead offering a more considered reading. The opening Allegretto was under tempo; unflappable though Capuçon was the movement lacked that last bit of character. Altinoglu was a fine accompanist although horn-player Phillip Eastop’s contribution was forced, his tone harsh and unyielding. In the long and deep slow movement the LSO provided some gorgeous string textures, and Capuçon was better, his blanched sound in the extreme upper register properly frozen, the passage with celesta hyper-delicate. The demanding cadenza was well negotiated technically but had its longueurs, the pizzicatos having little magic, and the Finale had its moments but never really took off. As an encore Capuçon offered something associated with Pablo Casals, Song of the Birds.
In Daphnis et Chloé, the LSO was joined by the London Symphony Chorus in top form, wonderfully quiet at the beginning. The woodwinds shone, again, not least Adam Walker on flute and Rosie Jenkins on oboe. The horn solos were well negotiated: Eastop now with a chance to show the more subtle side of his talents. Altinoglu’s ear for details and structural perceptions paid huge dividends, the music’s narrative unfolding naturally, the LSO now on a different level: ‘Danse guerrière’ had a real edge to it, the excitement enhanced by the LSO’s virtuosity. In the daybreak music (that opens Suite 2), the strings were ecstatic. This fine performance set the seal on Altinoglu’s debut, the LSO giving its all.