Adagio for Strings, Op.11a
Yet Another Set To [World premiere]
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73
Christian Lindberg (trombone)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 19 March, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s series of four concerts featuring the music of Mark-Anthony Turnage concluded at this concert with the world premiere of Yet Another Set To. Not entirely a world premiere given only the central slow movement – ‘A Soothing Interlude’, in which a soulful trombone soliloquy wanders over pensive string harmonies to poignant effect – was composed anew.
Otherwise, this trombone concerto for Christian Lindberg derives from earlier sources: the opening movement, ‘Cut Up’, is an orchestral rendering of the eponymous section from Blood on the Floor, its pulsating rhythmic aggression sounding persuasive in orchestral garb; while the finale, ‘Another Set To’, is essentially the piece Turnage wrote for Lindberg and the BBC Symphony to mark that orchestra’s 70th anniversary in 2000, though what on its own seemed a brazen showpiece now takes on a more resourceful extroversion. What remained unchanged was the effusive Lindberg’s commitment, enhanced by a judicious orchestral contribution directed by Marin Alsop. The performance is set to join the Turnage pieces heard earlier this season on a CD to be issued on the LPO’s own label, where it will form an ideal introduction to the composer’s recent music.
The concert itself opened with an intense but never affected reading of Barber’s ubiquitous Adagio, drawing the most from the modal harmonies and resonant textures – with the LPO strings giving of their best. Barber is a composer with whom Alsop is closely identified, having recorded almost all of his orchestral music for Naxos – for which label she and the LPO recently embarked on a Brahms symphony cycle. This account of No.2 suggested that, though their rapport is undoubted, a deeper identification with this much-played but interpretatively exacting music is only sometimes in evidence.
In particular, the opening movement lacked any sense of a consistent underlying tempo – with the exposition repeat not justified in terms of promoting greater cohesion, and the development building tentatively to its climax. The important horn solo at the start of the coda was rather rushed, thus robbing the closing pages of their elegiac repose. The Adagio was a good deal more convincing; harmonically one of Brahms’s most ambivalent pieces, it touches depths of feeling that were alluded to but never overdone here. The intermezzo had the right winsome elegance, even if the Presto trio section needed greater effervescence, and while the finale was robustly delivered, it had neither the formal grip nor the cumulative energy which this movement requires, though the shimmering descent into the reprise (which Mahler put to good use in his First Symphony) caught the breath as it should.
So, despite Alsop’s command, this was an enjoyable if largely unmemorable performance, with the LPO playing near to but not quite at its best.