LSO Huw Watkins Premiere

La forza del destino – Overture
London Concerto [LSO Commission: World premiere]
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Rachel Gough (bassoon)
Carmine Lauri (violin)
Bryn Lewis (harp)

London Symphony Orchestra
Xian Zhang

Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 18 May, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

It is ironic that on the day Norman Lebrecht lambasted the LSO in the Evening Standard for lack of adventure in programming new music, the orchestra produces a world premiere at its Barbican HQ. He finishes his article stating “Orchestras (the article concentrates on the LSO) must learn to surprise. They need new kids on the conductor’s block and new works on the players’ stands”. At this concert, the LSO gave the first performance of its own commission, Huw Watkins’s London Concerto, the last in a series of four works celebrating the orchestra’s Centenary. Not only new music but a young conductor making her LSO debut, fresh from recent competition success and currently Lorin Maazel’s assistant at the New York Philharmonic.

What more can an orchestra do? Well, perhaps try not to sugar the pill in the shape of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. It would be rare for a debut conductor to make much impression on musicians who are so familiar with a score like this. It did not help sell tickets – the hall was half-empty (or half-full if you are an optimist). One of Tchaikovsky’s first three symphonies would have been nice, for a change. This was a pretty routine play-through of the famous Fifth, redeemed only by some sparks flying in parts of the finale. Xian Zhang certainly has a stylish technique but there was little evidence of any strong musical personality.

Huw Watkins’s London Concerto features three contrasted solo instruments – bassoon, violin and harp – and his style seems to take note of recent forebears, particularly Tippett. He writes in a lyrical fashion but London Concerto is short of memorable ideas; that said, Watkins fashions the material in a sure manner and the ending of the fourth (of five) movements had poetic eloquence. The soloists, all LSO principals, were no doubt delighted to be offered the limelight in a score that gives plenty of opportunity to shine.

Problems on the Underground prevented me hearing the Verdi overture.

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