Les offrandes oubliées – méditation symphonique
Violin Concerto No.2
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36
Baiba Skride (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 30 April, 2015
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
This concert marked a double debut with the LSO – for Tugan Sokhiev (although he is a welcome and familiar face at the Southbank Centre with the Philharmonia Orchestra) and for Baiba Skride, taking over at short notice from an indisposed Midori.
Despite the inclusion of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony this was a courageous and demanding programme. Neither the Messiaen nor Bartók’s rebarbative Violin Concerto is a crowd-pleaser and both require the thorough rehearsal they had received on this occasion. Les offrandes oubliées (The Forgotten Offerings) was composed in 1930, the year Messiaen left the Paris Conservatoire. It is a remarkably assured piece. The three movements are a meditation on Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, on Sin and on the Eucharist, the first and last almost static with long winding string lines whereas the middle one explodes with considerable force. Under Sokhiev’s sensitive direction the LSO brought a welcome security throughout and some ravishing pianissimos at those moments where time seems suspended.
Baiba Skride was simply sensational in the Bartók, eliciting a myriad of tone colours from her Stradivarius (on loan from another Latvian, Gidon Kremer). A big player with an exceptionally full tone in the violin’s lower reaches, Skride commands the raw power to match the LSO in full cry. The Concerto is one of Bartók’s arch-like constructions centred on a central movement that is almost a musical palindrome, its initial serenity leading to a Scherzo-like episode before winding back. The outer movements share thematic affinities. Music of this volatility demands the closest integration between soloist and orchestra, With Sokhiev at the helm it certainly got it.
Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony received a singularly thought-provoking performance, although it was let down by some painfully scrappy brass-playing one does not expect from the LSO, the opening ‘fate’ fanfare suffering especially. Sokhiev’s approach was highly distinctive, mellow and slow-burn in the first movement (rarely has it been so un-hysterical and unhurried or the strings so legato), or with such gentle melancholy in the second (shades of the nearly contemporaneous Eugene Onegin) or with such gossamer delicacy in the Scherzo whose throwaway ending simply seemed to drift out of earshot. The all-important woodwind solos, especially the magnetic bassoon of Rachel Gough, were of the utmost distinction. The rambunctious Finale culminated in a fine dash to the finishing line but also managed to avoid any hint of being brazen, a rare feat. As well as the expected excitements this was also Tchaikovsky with a welcome dash of restraint and elegance.