Recorded April 11, 2021, at Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke’s, London, and first shown on April 29 @ 7 p.m.
Mark Simpson’s five-movement Violin Concerto, written for Nicola Benedetti, co-commissioned by the LSO, steals in on a whisper and is soon lamenting intensely, increasing in tempo and turmoil, segueing into a rapid, vivid and percussion-fuelled ‘Dance’, brass adding to the melee (the LSO members, led by Carmine Lauri, are positioned high and wide in the venue, masked string-players forming a nearly-complete circle round Gianandrea Noseda), the music contracting to lovely lyricism and then expanding to freneticism, eventually calming to the Andante amoroso third movement, which soars emotionally and is also unsettled; an elaborate cadenza cues further propulsion and a ‘big’ albeit abrupt finish. Whether it all adds up over thirty-seven minutes is a moot point; it is perhaps overlong and repetitive if perfectly accessible while being unmemorable – too contradictory – although there is no doubt Simpson has chucked a lot of feeling into his score with much technical expertise; and no doubt either as to the virtuosity of the performance – from all concerned, not least Noseda; an active baton indeed.
Simpson’s Violin Concerto proved a somewhat disconcerting experience – the longer it went on the more ‘outside’ of it I felt. So, having been troubled by my reaction, Tchaikovsky 6 was not the ideal light relief needed, even in this rather classical conception, less than pristinely played at times in the first movement (probably not helped by Covid seating – the musicians separated and spatial). Avoiding intervention and exaggeration, Noseda let the music speak for itself, but if it had to be a Tchaikovsky Symphony then the spirits-raising ‘Little Russian’ (No.2) would have been an ideal complement to the Simpson. As it was, despite the players’ dedicated intentions, this ‘Pathétique’ was just out of reach for me, although the 5/4 second movement exhibited soul, its march successor avoided glibness through a stately tempo (by which I don’t mean the deliberation of Bernstein, Celibidache or Mikko Franck, as recorded) and despite disproportionately loud cymbal clashes. The slow, if here flowing, Finale was a dignified leave-taking, the doom-laden gong stroke allowed to linger for longer than usual, effectively.
This recording is free to watch for seven days from April 29, at…