LSO Centenary Gala

Beethoven
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67 – final movement
Mozart
Sinfonia concertante in E flat for violin and viola, K364 – first movement
Shostakovich
Symphony No.8 in C minor, Op.65 – second movement
Sarasate
Carmen Fantasy
Ravel
La valse

(Interval)

Colin Matthews
Fanfare: Bravo LSO! [World Premiere]
Bernstein
Candide – Overture
Mozart
Ch’io mi scordi di te – Concert Aria, K505
Howard Brubeck
Theme for June
Bliss
Things to Come – March
Elgar
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36 – Theme, Variation I (C.A.E.) and Variation XIV (Finale: E.D.U.)
John T Williams
Star Wars – Main Title
Rodrigo
Concierto de Aranjuez – second movement
Britten
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Variations and Fugue on a theme by Purcell, Op.34) – Fugue

London Symphony Orchestra

Sir Colin Davis
Russell Gloyd
Daniel Harding
Richard Hickox
Antonio Pappano
Mstislav Rostropovich
Michael Tilson Thomas

Yuri Bashmet (viola)
Alfred Brendel (piano)
Dave Brubeck (piano)
Sarah Chang (violin)
Susan Graham (mezzo-soprano)
Midori (violin)
John Williams (guitar)

Sir John Tusa (compere)


Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 9 June, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

It was on the afternoon of 9 June 1904 that the London Symphony Orchestra gave its first concert – at the Queen’s Hall under Dr Hans Richter. A century later to the day the Orchestra’s present chief conductor, Sir Colin Davis, and many distinguished friends of the LSO came together to celebrate. Fresh from her sortie to the D-Day beaches of Normandy, the Queen attended, so too The Duke of Edinburgh.

Above all, the festivities were for the London Symphony Orchestra itself, currently riding high, and capable of equally doing justice to Mozart and Beethoven, to film music such as “Star Wars”, to jazz accompanying the great Dave Brubeck, to the colour of Ravel’s La valse or the visceral impact of Shostakovich. One slightly unsung hero was the orchestra’s Managing Director, Clive Gillinson, formerly a cellist in the LSO, who pulled the Orchestra back from the brink in the 1980s.

The concert opened and closed with Sir Colin Davis, who is enjoying an Indian Summer. A splendid Beethovenian, Davis plunged in at the deep end with the finale of the Fifth Symphony, which was played in the LSO’s first concert. Under Davis, one has seldom been so aware of the piccolo’s part. Sir Colin also conducted a glorious performance of Mozart’s “Ch’io mi scordi di te” from Susan Graham, Alfred Brendel luxury casting for the piano obbligato. This was altogether special.

Perhaps the surprise of the evening was Mstislav Rostropovich’s lissom conducting of Mozart, the first movement of Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante with Midori and Yuri Bashmet as soloists, Midori on top form, Bashmet slightly less so. Less surprising, of course, was Rostropovich unleashing the sardonic second movement of Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony, here graced with some superlative piccolo playing from Sharon Williams and the LSO’s ferociously committed and trenchant response.

Sarah Chang, dressed to kill, hammed it up deliciously in Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, playing with a devil-may-care panache, a tactful Michael Tilson Thomas providing a spot-on accompaniment before giving a virtuoso account of Ravel’s La valse. There’s a great deal more subtlety and fin de siecle subtext inherent to this piece than MTT found, but his technical mastery of the score allowed the LSO to respond with a characteristically brilliant display.

Bravo LSO! by Colin Matthews, the LSO’s one-time Composer in Residence, was conducted with panache by Antonio Pappano; the expression “slam-dunk” might have been invented to describe this work. Then came Pappano’s spirited rendition of Bernstein’s Candide Overture, a nice tribute to the Orchestra’s former President. He recorded Candide complete with the LSO.

Continuing the Bernstein connection, the ever-green Dave Brubeck, now in his ‘eighties, played Theme for June by his brother Howard. (Bernstein recorded Howard Brubeck’s Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Orchestra with the New York Philharmonic in 1960.) Oddly moving – and absolute proof that great music-making is great music-making whatever the genre. Dave Brubeck’s regular collaborator Russell Gloyd conducted.

The low point of the concert came with Richard Hickox conducting the March from Bliss’s music for “Things to Come”, a scrappy affair with poor brass. One remembers Boult’s incandescent performance with the LSO at the Proms in the 70s. The theme, and the first and last variations from Enigma, another work which featured in the first LSO concert (and Elgar was the LSO’s conductor for a couple of years), fared little better: flaccid and indifferently played. Things picked up dramatically with Daniel Harding conducting the “Star Wars” Main Title – the LSO responsible for the all these films’ soundtracks.

Almost last on this too-long second half, we had another John Williams, the guitarist in Rodrigo’s famous movement, here spoilt by unnecessary amplification of the guitar part. There was though a fabulous cor anglais solo from Christine Pendrill and equally distinguished solos from other woodwind players and first horn. Pappano conducted con amore.

Finally, Sir Colin returned to his Merry Men – and Women (for the LSO is no longer the male preserve it once was) – to round-off a memorable evening with a wonderfully light-fingered and insouciant account of Britten’s Fugue. All the soloists and conductors returned for a final curtain call, Sir Colin led “Happy Birthday” and a great occasion, which included free champagne for all and an equally gratis lavish programme-book, was brought to a resounding conclusion. In current street-speak: Absolutely Wicked!

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