The glistening sonorities of the opening Sostenuto lead effortlessly into a driving Feroce, though it is maybe a miscalculation that the remaining four sections proceed with pauses lessening the overall coherence of what, in its follow-through of incident, should be an integral design. Moreover, after a ravishing Dolcissimo, the Lento espressivo that follows marks time a little too readily before the climactic intensity of the Furioso and the veiled catharsis of the concluding Misterioso. In the quartet original the whispered rendition of Tarkovskys poem Winters Day makes a magical impression as heard through electronic diffusion; here, the result was rather less atmospheric.
Not that this was not the fault of the LPO players, nor the adroit balancing of timbral contrasts by Christoph Eschenbach who encouraged the sometimes reticent-sounding strings to give of their best in a lucid, controlled and keenly projected performance. Saariaho can indeed feel pleased with the orchestras advocacy over the course of this season.
The previous concerts featuring Saariahos music had both programmed it in the context of music appropriate to her aesthetic. No such connection was evident here, though this pairing of two staples of the repertoire worked better than might have been expected. The much-lauded Chinese pianist Lang Lang set about Tchaikovskys First Piano Concerto as if determined to overcome its war-horse associations. The opening melody was shorn of grandiloquence, and throughout the lengthy first movement, Lang Lang eagerly abetted by Eschenbach kept to a freewheeling expressive rubato. Fine in principal, but passagework was often skimped few of the upward or downward runs were played at all accurately and the coherence of Tchaikovskys admittedly sectional design was too often sacrificed to a live for the moment adrenaline.
There were some good things in the following two movements: a magical lead-back to the main theme of the Andantino albeit after a prestissimo central section where speed outpaced subtlety and a hushed expectancy as Eschenbach steered the orchestra into the concertos closing peroration, the big tune benefiting from a flowing pace. Overall, however, this was a performance that too often forced expressive contrasts to the point of caricature. Lang Lang received something of an ovation, and responded with one of Liszts Schumann transcriptions though your reviewer didnt stay to find out which one.
Brahmss First Symphony, which Eschenbach conducted from memory and whose interpretation of which might be distinguished as strong and secure whether in matters of ensemble and balance, or the difficult tempo relationships during and between movements. The Andante was expressively characterised, with some winsome playing from guest-leader Boris Garlitsky, and the Intermezzo was put attentively through its paces though the central section did seem unduly hard-driven.
Save for a rather blowsy treatment of the horn theme prior to the indelible melody of the Finale, the introductions to both outer movements were powerfully, but not overbearingly conceived and if their respective continuations seemed to be going through the motions to a degree, this was not Eschenbachs fault entirely. He obtained playing from the LPO that, in the non-Saariaho works, was the best to be heard in any of these concerts. Whether, as an interpretative musician, his abilities quite warrant his current position in the conducting profession is another matter.
- This concert is broadcast by BBC Radio 3 this Thursday, 23 May, at 7.30 Click here to Listen on-line