LSO Discovery Concert: Rediscover Tchaikovsky

An evening of exploration and performance with musical illustrations from Tchaikovsky’s The Storm, Symphony No.1 (Winter Daydreams), Manfred Symphony, and a complete performance of the Fantasy Overture Romeo and Juliet

London Symphony Orchestra
Michael Tilson Thomas

Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 9 November, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

As Michael Tilson Thomas observed, the LSO Discovery format began as a means of introducing listeners gently to the more gnarly end of the contemporary repertoire; to be putting works by so well-known a composer as Tchaikovsky under the microscope was something of a departure. However, this exercise was a rewarding one that stripped away the dusty layers of familiarity to reveal the imaginative brilliance beneath.

MTT proved an engaging and relaxed lecturer, his slightly patrician manner redeemed by his deep knowledge and seemingly boundless enthusiasm. He showed how Tchaikovsky’s melodic and instrumental techniques are present in early works, like the Storm Overture, and with the help of the string section demonstrated how choices of bowing affect the character of the music.

The first half of the concert flagged somewhat, breaking the narrative for somewhat redundant performances of The Storm and the slow movement of the First Symphony. However, the game was raised substantially in the second half, with the orchestra let loose on the climactic ‘Fate’ motif from the Manfred Symphony before Tilson Thomas showed how it reappeared in the scherzo. (The Discovery lecture-recital format offers a respectable analytical justification for listening to a symphony’s ‘bits’ in Classic FM-style.)

Finally, Romeo and Juliet, freed from sugary Valentine’s Day purgatory by some instructive detail as to its background and orchestration. It helped that it was given a performance of sweeping bel canto line and singeing intensity.

The video screens showing close-ups of the orchestral players were effective in the demonstration sections, though the decisions about what to show when seemed somewhat random, and they had been turned off entirely by the end. Perhaps the director was carried away by the music: forgivable in the circumstances.

  • LSO/MTT Tchaikovsky concerts on 10 & 13 November
  • LSO

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