Viola Concerto [1961 revised version]
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Antoine Tamestit (viola)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 28 October, 2021
Venue: Hall, Barbican Centre, London
We are currently blessed with some very distinguished viola players breathing life into works both established and new. One of them is Antoine Tamestit, whose performance in Walton’s Viola Concerto should have been enough to resolve any current problems with Anglo/French entente not-so-cordiale. Walton wrote it when he was twenty-six, and, after Lionel Tertis turned it down, Paul Hindemith was the soloist for the premiere in 1929. Despite some exuberant moments, it is the introspective antithesis of Façade or Portsmouth Point from around the same time. Its form also suits the instrument well – a first movement observing sonata rules while succumbing to slow-movement melancholy and haunted, halting dances, followed by a brief, dazzling Vivo, then a Finale that reverts to the opening’s quizzical lyricism to bring matters to an equivocal close.
Tamestit has a magical facility for making a sound that seems unimpeded by any sort of barrier (he was playing his fabulous Stradivarius from 1672) and which defies categorisation, beyond an irresistible vocal quality, a finely judged use of vibrato, an inward nobility, and a preference for the shadows, backed up by an unfussy virtuosity. As he has proved in Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, Tamestit has a genius for subtly breathing character into music so that the listener instinctively gets how it hangs together, and this was a performance that read between the lines with uncanny perception.
Ticciati’s conducting was a masterly application of surreptitious pressure and support that could be galvanised into something more symphonic, and he had his ear finely tuned in to Walton’s luminous orchestration – in the now-standard revision in which he reduced woodwind and brass and added a harp – from a still sizeable LSO. While this is very much a romantic concerto, with the soloist in pole position, Tamestit clearly enjoyed exchanges with other solos, played with the LSO’s customary élan, and he was an ideal messenger for Walton’s almost Elgarian skill at hiding behind the notes in this inexhaustible work. The elegiac close folded naturally into Tamestit’s encore, the ‘Sarabande’ from a Bach Cello Suite.
Ticciati knows Brahms’s Symphonies inside out, and it showed in his and the LSO’s magisterial command of No.4. This was the first time I’d heard the LSO live, probably since 2019, and the sheer glamour of its sound compounded by Barbican Hall’s super-responsive acoustic took a bit of adjustment. Ticciati’s athletic podium style coaxed a first movement of unsparing clarity and fiery tragedy, and if it seemed to be more in the foreground, things changed in the Andante moderato, with the horns and woodwinds providing layers of quasi-vocal playing. The trombones were spectacularly baleful in the passacaglia Finale, and despite the delicacy of the middle sequence of variations, the Symphony closed in uncompromising bleakness, mitigated somewhat by a gentle encore, the tenth and last of Dvořàk’s Opus 59 Legends.