Michael Tilson Thomas began the evening thanking us for attending in the wake of the London Bridge attack and stressing the value of classical music as an expression of tolerance and understanding in dark times.
Stravinsky’s Scènes de ballet was commissioned for a Broadway revue by impresario Billy Rose and was composed in the year of MTT’s birth, 1944. It can seem a detached piece, especially if encountered in the context of Frederick Ashton’s icily brilliant choreography. MTT and the LSO made a strong alternative case with a crystal-clear and charming performance. The brass sonorities in the opening were exemplary, the strings were bracing and the woodwinds airy. The trumpet solo in the ‘Pas de deux’ was striking and the following cello duet tender and affectionate. MTT ensured that the twin elements of sentimentality and astringency were perfectly balanced throughout.
The first movement of the Prokofiev took a while to warm up although the dreamy opening was beautifully played by Lisa Batiashvili, but a sense of whimsicality was missing although there was a flute solo of pristine beauty. The aggressive Scherzo showed Batiashvili in prickly and vibrant form as she threw off the music with quicksilver lightness. The Finale was most successful from the opening tension between Batiashvili’s svelte cantabile melody and the clock-like ticking of the accompaniment leading to her soaring and passionate lines in the central episode. The lyrical conclusion, violin reminiscing against shimmering orchestra, was rendered with great artistry.
The sombre opening of the ‘Pathétique’ was impressive with an eloquent bassoon and real depth of sound from violas. The first-movement’s massive struggle was conveyed with extremes of dynamics and the second subject was well-shaped. It was a sweeping reading with intense strings and brass that were powerful but never blaring, yet there were too many differences of tempo and a sense of inevitability was lacing. MTT was more successful with the almost waltz- like second movement (5/4) that was stylish and well- turned, and the third-movement march avoided being merely hectic, MTT ensuring a very volatile LSO response that suggested underlying anger in the music. The inevitable applause followed to totally destroy the mood. The Finale was given a poignant rather than soulful reading with little sense of hysteria, with much tenderness. The ultimate fade into nothingness from the cellos and double basses was managed with refinement and feeling, a dignified lament.