Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Thierry Fischer conducted this without-audience concert, the LPO on home turf if not so regularly there at present (if back this Friday), opening with a Vivaldi Violin Concerto (in B-flat, RV383a, from the set of such works known as La stravaganza) with LPO leader Pieter Schoeman as soloist. The outer movements are energetic, this performance of them zesty, Schoeman coming into his own, leaning to the Romantic, in the lovely Largo e cantabile.

There followed Schubert’s Second Symphony (via one of his Lieder, as recorded by Christoph Prégardien & Julius Drake, to cover a stage-change). A purposeful slow introduction led to an articulate Allegro, this and an exposition repeat lending weight to teenager Schubert’s invention. There followed an Andante of song-like flow, later contrasts – whether dramatic or charming – made the most of. The Minuet strode with virility, but the Trio was disconnected to it tempo-wise; and the Finale (no repeat this time) was lively, its Sullivan-esque bounce intact – all-in-all a refreshing corrective to the oddball account that R3 broadcast just a couple of weeks ago from Wellber and the BBC Philharmonic.

I switched off the recorded interval music (sorry Stewart, and I like Nielsen’s Flute Concerto, too) – less is more – and did what I might have done if in the RFH, had a cup of coffee.

Back in my seat, so to speak, it was a score by Thomas Larcher to launch the concert’s second half, his Ourobouros, a cello concerto from 2014, with Kristina Blaumane (LPO principal) as the superb soloist. Scored for chamber orchestra, including percussion and a prepared piano, Larcher’s piece, inspired by the image of a snake eating its own tail – symbolising infinity – is suggestive music of narrative and imagery if not the last word regarding substance; indeed, my interest waned long before the twenty minutes were up.

From one-hundred years earlier, Max Reger’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart. Reger (pictured) may have had a relatively short life (1873-1916) but he was prolific as a composer (this work is his Opus 132) and busy as a conductor, pianist, organist and pedagogue. His Mozart-inspired piece utilises the first movement of Wolfgang Amadeus’s A-major Piano Sonata, K331. (To cover a further stage-move, K331’s ‘Turkish’ Finale, as recorded with decorum by Mitsuko Uchida was another filler.) Reger’s extended set of commentaries (a couple of minutes over half-an-hour), classically scored, as the Schubert, adding another pair of horns, a piccolo and a harp, is as variedly inventive as it is affectionate for its source. The Fugue, magnificent in its counterpoint and stealth, found Fischer and the LPO in firm control of the big finish.