Grażyna Bacewicz, 1909-69

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Stepping in for Gianandrea Noseda (having had to withdraw due to travel restrictions), Paavo Järvi took over the London Symphony Orchestra for a programme traversing the relatively unfamiliar through the occasionally tried-out to standard mainstream. All dispatched with his customary composure and attentiveness, coaxing detail and character out of the players, never pushing the moment. Järvi has the safest hands in the business with a disposition to match. He doesn’t do ordinary. There’s always a surprise around the corner, a touch of adventure, a glint in the eye to keep us on our toes.

I grew up with Grażyna Bacewicz’s 1948 Concerto for Strings. The years have softened it somewhat. It’s not quite the Bartók Divertimento substitute I used to imagine. Nor does it approach those carved string intensities and serrated extremes Lutosławski, Penderecki and the Polish school were to make their own a decade later. But it has determination and guts, it engineers its motifs neo-classically, it encloses a sublimely turned Andante, and it has enough tricky solos and textures to test the best musicians. Järvi authoritatively drew the LSO ( into the idiom.

Haydn’s B-flat Sinfonia concertante for violin, cello, oboe and bassoon, written for London in 1792, was about chamber elegance, gallant rhythms and sensitive, placed accompaniment, the orchestra fielding a pedigree quartet of principals – Roman Simovic, Rebecca Gilliver, Olivier Stankiewicz and Daniel Jemison. The first movement ensemble cadenza (Haydn’s own) took the ruminative route.

Järvi’s Beethoven is familiar terrain, if a little more moderated and measured these days than when he videoed the Symphonies with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in 2009. In a chat beforehand he stressed the enigmatic “unusual” nature of the 1812 Eighth, a work taking a “sideways step” between the Seventh and Ninth, not fitting the populist view of Beethoven as a frowning, fist-shaking heavyweight. “Beethoven and ‘funny’ [people say] cannot be used in the same sentence … they sure can.” His Bremen account was a fierce one, running out at around twenty-four minutes. Two minutes longer, this LSO version had humour, an especially taut first movement development, and plenty of sharp oppositions – sudden quiets, unforgiving louds, hide-and-seek scampers, theatrical Finale unisons. Maybe the Loki blaze was dampened here and there but Järvi’s ruggedly full-throated stance had a persuasive ring overall, his body language – reminding of Celibidache in illustrative, point-making mood – striking a communicative note. Dvora Lewis, the LSO’s PR duchess for nearly forty years whose death had been reported earlier in the day, would have loved it.

Idagio’s livestream combined atmospheric lighting with good camera angles. But the sound (Jonathan Stokes, Neil Hutchinson) was variable, Nigel Thomas’s timpani proving over-reverberant in the mix, at the expense of clarity.