London’s Barbican Centre can give connoisseurs of great orchestras and conductors a real thrill. As a music tourist from Sweden I have had the good fortune to experience many moments of amazing music-making in this strangely unassuming concert hall tucked away into the Barbican residential complex. And the regular visits of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Mariss Jansons are cause for great anticipation, a hot ticket. This said, Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto and Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony are not exactly rare, yet the crowd had definitely gathered on the night of the performance.
Yefim Bronfman is a powerful presence and for the Beethoven he brought with him a fine performance, with excellent give and take between him and his accompanists. Bronfman’s encore was an overtly subdued take on Robert Schumann’s Arabeske (Opus 18) and perhaps not ideally convincing – too strong a case of an artist giving his own quasi-diagnosis of Schumann’s unstable psyche.
The main event was the Prokofiev, the war-torn Fifth Symphony a most effective vehicle for an orchestra of the calibre of the Bavarians. Jansons showed all of his customary flair and expressively exact technique; in fact he gave everything he has, an interpretation that really probed the depths of the music. This was an epic performance, not only in terms of the remarkable, beautiful execution, but grand in it being a lived experience, part of the maestro’s heart and soul, rendered to the full by the Rolls-Royce Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. There is not weak link!
There were two encores, both ballet-orientated and totally magnificent in their joyously brilliant impact – the ‘Panorama’ from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, with delicate prominence given to the harp, and finally ‘Death of Tybalt’ from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. As it happened this concert coincided with the Royal Philharmonic Society awarding maestro Jansons its Gold Medal: so well deserved.