Prior to Bangkok and China, Rapsodie espagnole, Ravel’s evocation of all things Spanish – he was born in the Pyrenees to a Madrileño mother. It was played beautifully by the LSO, Ravel’s sumptuous colours superbly realised, if a little too harried by the ever-excitable Gianandrea Noseda. Still, that falling four-note ostinato that punctuates the opening ‘Prélude à la nuit’ was especially pregnant with expectation, and the closing ‘Feria’ broke free from the coiled-spring tension of the previous three movements, with some blistering playing – a thrilling maelstrom of sound delivered with assurance.
Noseda’s muscular approach to the opening of the minor-key Beethoven did not sit well, but then the control of Yefim Bronfman’s first utterance proved the ideal foil to such flamboyance, as did some perfectly poised woodwind contributions. From here this was Beethoven to admire and enjoy from Bronfman; Noseda’s big, brash and busy treatment continued to badger, though. In the slow movement there was mesmeric woodwind with Bronfman more in a supporting role throughout in what was an envelope of calmness, although basses and cellos could take one to dark places only to be rescued by the piano; it captured one’s breath with its elegance, similarly the élan afforded to the Finale, buoyed by virtuosic string-playing.
Pictures was played as a showpiece in Ravel’s ubiquitous – and superb – orchestration that was commissioned by Koussevitzky. Simon Haram gave a supremely elegiac solo on saxophone in ‘The Old Castle’, and Philip Cobb’s trumpet was devilish in ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle’. ‘Bydlo’ was awesome: firm tread, controlled crescendo, with a militaristic climax, although perhaps not quite the image of an approaching oxcart, but rather a well-drilled regiment-of-foot. Regardless, everything was blown away by a frenetic ‘Baba-Yaga’, similarly the wall-of-sound edifice that is ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’.