Friday, October 1, 2021

Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall, London

Just under a week ago it was a great start to Edward Gardner’s LPO’s tenure,, and the Berlioz continued the trend, Gardner taking an unhackneyed look at this familiar opium-fuelled creation, a quicksilver approach to the reveries and passions of the first movement (repeat observed), the volatility of the music underlined – poetic, feverish – the LPO demanded upon and on its toes to deliver, a pertinent stance with which to dance the waltz of the second movement, Gardner avoiding halting the flow with spurious disruptions of pace and phrasal stretching (and also passing over the ad lib cornet part, thankfully). The scene in the country brought some peace (the cor anglais/offstage oboe exchanges nicely managed) but never stasis, feelings simmering and bursting forth with demonstration, to then be shadowed by distant ominous thunder (timpani). The march to the scaffold lacked for bite initially, partly due to a slightly too quick tempo (wonderfully crisp brass-playing though), although, via the repeat, greater menace was found. As for the Finale, the witches partied with hedonistic glee motivated by and boogying to the ‘Dies irae’, although the tolling bells needed to be darker in timbre and more doom-laden; that said, the concluding bars were thrilling and won storming applause: a pity though that some in the audience had pre-empted that particular noise following each of the previous four movements.

As centrepiece, Nicolas Altstaedt playing Witold Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto (premiered in this hall in October 1970 by Rostropovich, Edward Downes conducting the Bournemouth SO) compelled the airwaves. It’s a theatrical masterpiece, cello as character, musing on one note, meandering/schizophrenic and becoming hysterical, the large orchestra as protagonist, sometimes barbed, other times confrontational, the sniping brass contingent in particular – prisoner and hostile warders (perhaps). As the piece extends, so too the cello’s expression and moods, while the spectral scoring both delights the ear and adds to the heightened if claustrophobic atmosphere, albeit there is room for the cello to dream momentarily before the strident/chaotic climax, cello at its most pained, no way out against combative orchestra, pugilistic blows unleashed, cello exasperated at the end.

Altstaedt and LPO gave their all for a stunning performance and Gardner is a proven dedicated champion of the Polish composer:,

The opening work was D’un matin de printemps (1918) by the short-lived Lili Boulanger. Shimmering and animated, it’s a fresh-sounding piece with Debussian colours and harmonies, and a radiance and perkiness all its own, revealingly performed by the LPO.

From a Radio 3 perspective, and regarding this,, interesting to note that twenty-fours earlier the RFH had sounded less like itself for the Philharmonia but was back to true for the LPO.