Arts & Culture Music

London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican

  • December 5, 2022
  • 3 min read
London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican

The LSO devoted a lot of concert time in November to composers in their thirties and, after hearing the world premiere of Louise Drewett’s The Daymark, she may be the best of the bunch. She made full use of the orchestra but with discretion, creating ripples throughout her soundscape that alluded cleverly to the movement of waves, the fickleness of the wind, the way light fractured as it passed through the glass panels of a Devon coastal beacon. The work is only ten minutes long but it was enough to suggest that Drewett is a major voice coming into her prime. The commission was awarded as part of an LSO scheme named after their onetime associate, as both composer and conductor, Sir Andrej Panufnik, and my sense is that he would have been very pleased with the outcome.

Delicacy and precision were also crucial qualities in Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G and Alice Sarah Ott was just the right pianist to deliver them. She is a truly imaginative interpreter, able to be percussive when the music calls for it, but also happy to luxuriate in Ravel’s gorgeous slow movement, allowing it to be a meditative and gentle waltz, before she and the orchestra revelled in the jazz and fireworks of the finale. Ott is one of the most intelligent performers of the middle generation. A woman who seems to enjoy philosophy and design as much as music. She is happy to surprise, and always careful to give her collaborators the space to travel with her.

These two works in the first half were the highpoints of the concert, though the audience were impressed enough to bellow their appreciation of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, The Year 1905, that followed the interval. It is true that Gianandrea Noseda handled the rowdier parts of the symphony with gusto (and Shostakovich gives the orchestra plenty of opportunities to be very loud). That, though, is not really the point. The noise is that of the Tsar’s troops crushing dissent, a depressingly apt reference to Russian politics now, which cannot have been in the LSO’s artistic planner’s mind, when this programme was put together.

The real heart of the work is in the atmosphere of brooding fear, the hushed anticipation of violence to come and the quiet determination of St. Petersburg’s citizens to change the way the regime operated. Noseda was not the conductor to achieve such intensity. The precision that had made the Ravel Concerto work so well, seemed to desert the orchestra and so many of the score’s most telling moments were punctuated, not by Tsarist rifles, but a barrage of audience coughs. The symphony was being recorded for release on the LSO Live label. I hope they also preserved the first half’s performances too because they will be far more important documents for the future.

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Simon Mundy

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