The best performances of the Sea Interludes from “Peter Grimes” succeed in marrying their dual roles – to evoke the rugged landscape of the Suffolk coastline and to reflect the underlying psychological tensions in the opera’s narrative. Kristjan Järvi didn’t really pull off either trick in a performance that was strong on refinement but short on atmosphere and tension. ‘Sunday Morning’ sounded hesitant and detached while the lack of fury in ‘Storm’ made it feel more of a heavy shower.
Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto was marred an unusually sloppy entry from the LSO in the opening bars and a general feeling of disengagement throughout the first movement despite Viktoria Mullova sounding wonderfully alert from the off. The orchestra caught up in ‘Aria I’ with fresh and alert wind-playing. Mullova shone in ‘Aria II’, her tone rich and expressive, capturing fully the mood of anguish. Orchestra and soloist were really swinging by the finale, both at last on the same wavelength. Mullova breezed her way through the trickiest of passages but nonetheless imbuing them with sparkle and wit to bring the work to a rousing conclusion.
There was much to admire in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, but one wonders what heights the LSO was capable of scaling with a conductor who probes deeper than Kristjan Järvi. His rendition was meticulously rehearsed, finely balanced, superbly played but ultimately never set the pulse racing. The first movement was a case in point. Silky smooth strings, rasping brass and intelligently paced, everything as it should be, except for the lack of idiomatic expression, a problem repeated in the fourth movement where the interruption with Bartók’s sarcastic Shostakovich parody felt blunted by Järvi’s slick but over-smooth execution. The second movement came nearest to a more authentic feel with tremendous wit in the ‘Game of the Couples’ thanks to some outstanding contributions from the wind section, notably oboist Joseph Sanders. The finale is a strong affirmation of life by a composer approaching death. It rarely fails to rouse and the LSO served up enough excitement here to get the audience cheering.