Photo, London Philharmonic Orchestra

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

The concert opened with the century-plus belated London premiere of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s ‘lost and found’ Solemn Prelude (Opus 40; 1899; written for the Three Choirs Festival), lacking distinction if in the Parry/Stanford mould (the latter composer being Coleridge-Taylor’s teacher), recognisably English if short of anything memorable. Fine performance though.

Masterpieces followed. Michael Tippett’s mid-1950s’ Piano Concerto, inspired by and structurally-mirroring Beethoven’s Fourth such work. Steven Osborne is one of Tippett’s greatest champions – he has recorded all the piano music for Hyperion – and here he relished the lyrical/enchanted first movement without lingering; indeed, there was a moving-forward that was exhilarating without compromising ensemble, the LPO and Edward Gardner spot-on in togetherness and expressiveness despite the tricky and exposed writing, Osborne animated and glittering, cumulative in the cadenza, a celesta in attendance. There was a freshness to this account that found the music’s radiance, continued in the tense and elaborate slow movement that yields to ecstasy and contemplation (cf the Beethoven), and rounded by the joyous and jazzy Finale, dancing unstoppably to the finishing post, Catherine Edwards’s neighbourly celesta once again a prominent voice. Osborne gave a wonderful, deep-harmony, encore: an improvisation on something by Keith Jarrett.

Edward Gardner has already put his recorded stamp on Elgar’s First Symphony, for Chandos with the BBCSO. Conducting the LPO he led a dynamic and impassioned rendition that ebbed and flowed through the musical and emotional complexities, whether powerfully public or privately pianissimo, the substantial first movement hanging together through its myriad transformations, pertinent details revealed. Following which, a fiery Scherzo that was exquisitely wound-down into the intimacies and eloquences of the exceptional Adagio, spacious and soulful, and then a clan-gathering Finale – judiciously attacca – that strode to triumph and found it without egotistical pomp.