LPO/Otaka – The Crazed Moon (30 April)

The Crazed Moon
Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.25
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27

Lang Lang (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Tadaaki Otaka

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 30 April, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

The London Philharmonic Orchestra continued its overview of the music of Julian Anderson with a revival of The Crazed Moon – conducted by Tadaaki Otaka, who was at the helm for its first performance at the 1997 Cheltenham Festival.

Taking its title from a lament by W.B Yeats, this is a funeral march whose abrupt juxtapositions in mood enhance its overall feeling of unity and consequent catharsis: a telling tribute to composer Graham Smith – whose promise was cut short in 1995, aged only 23. Haunting offstage fanfares frame an elegy whose slow underlying pace is belied by the textural elaboration reached at the main climax, in which gongs (subtly varied dynamically) and divided strings create an intense aura. Otaka’s performance was at its best in the thoughtful but never sluggish pacing of the cumulative central section – the interweaving variants of the main theme retaining their definition, before the music ’eclipses’ itself in a sequence of valedictory chorales. A powerful threnody which demonstrated Anderson’s orchestral prowess at its keenest, but left the audience palpably unmoved!

Integrating new and recent compositions into a ’standard’ orchestral programme does not get easier over time. Certainly there was little continuity between Anderson’s elegy and the bright-eyed early Romanticism of Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto that followed. The customary three movements are not integrated as such, but linked simply and effectively so as to maintain thematic continuity across the 20-minute span. If a touch brusque in the spirited outer movements, Lang Lang was nowhere near as insensitive in his playing as in the mauling he meted out to Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto last season, and engaged in some subtle interplay with the orchestra in the poetic ’Andante’ – violas and cellos wistfully to the fore.

Lang Lang then treated us to the novelty of a duet for a Chinese blowed-and-plucked string instrument (looking a little like a mandolin) and piano entitled Two Horses Compete – Lang senior doing the honours on said instrument. One anticipates the remainder of the family showing up next season for a further especially composed encore!

After the interval, Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony in a reading which – spacious but never indulgent – was typically Otaka-ian. There were some good things here: the well-judged emotional crescendo of the first movement’s introductory Largo (the ’motto’ balefully to the fore), the well-articulated string fugato at the centre of the Scherzo and, in the Finale, a persuasive tapering down to near-stasis before the animated development. Yet the opening ’Allegro moderato’ failed to sustain a convincing momentum (its developmental span incisive rather than dramatic), and the outer portions of the Scherzo rather jog-trotted their way through the motions.

Despite Robert Hill’s affecting playing of the soulful clarinet melody, the ’Adagio’ was hardly rapt in its expressiveness – least of all in the passionate central climax. The Finale tended to sprawl in the protracted run-up to the recall of the ’big tune’ and the jubilant coda. Here as elsewhere, the LPO brass was given its head to forceful if often blowsy effect. A deep rather than profound work, Rachmaninov Two has its fair share of formal and expressive sophistication – something that Otaka clearly grasps but was only intermittently able to convey to the orchestra on this occasion.

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