For the second time of asking (previously four nights ago) Bernard Haitink and the LSO opened their latest collaboration with Thomas Adès’s Couperin Studies (2006), three of the Baroque composer’s harpsichord pieces re-imagined for chamber orchestra – reduced winds and strings supplemented by timpani, rototoms, bass drum and marimba. The effect is beguiling, Adès as faithful to the originals as he is imaginative to their adaptation, creating a sepia-tinted soundworld, a ghostly overlay, the final section – ‘L’Âme-en-peine’ (The Soul in Torment) – especially haunting, sad, even funereal, to complete a set both restrained yet ear-catching, directed with discretion and played with sensitivity.
In Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto Veronika Eberle made a virtue out of lyricism and elegance. Hers was a discriminating and confiding approach granted a mellifluous and subtle accompaniment to which her consideration and poise folded in naturally. Not that there was any lack of temperament – as the cadenza displayed, so too the sprint that informed the conclusion of the first movement, a breaking free until halted by Rachel Gough’s long-held bassoon note to cue the Andante, very expressive and full of sweet-toned song. Only the Finale raised a slight doubt, the tempo a little too nifty if played with dexterity and brilliance (ditto Adam Walker on flute). If you’d like a reference to a great violinist of the past to whom Eberle might be likened, there were a few times when Arthur Grumiaux came to mind.
Following the interval, Haitink – the master of seeming to do very little yet conjuring so much, the LSO playing like angels (attentive to the smallest detail and to varieties of dynamics) – led a Brahms 2 of notable integrity, best exemplified by the repeat of the first-movement exposition that arrived with such inevitability as to be a continuation rather than a returning to the beginning (the lead-back bars anything but formal). And if the slow movement was more Andante than the marked Adagio it made sense in relation to what had just gone, and with no lack of eloquence or moments that stabbed the heart, followed by a stylish Allegretto. If the Finale on its own terms was a little too unhurried it was coherent as part of the bigger picture – in which tempo-rubato unified the whole – and Haitink’s wisdom wouldn’t allow him to spoil things by speeding into the concluding bars, here majestically triumphant to crown a sovereign performance that was compelling and enlightening.
Now Haitink and the LSO travel to Madrid with this programme as well as the one from October 10.