LSO/Robin Ticciati, Barbican, London – review

Concert programming in London has developed so many intelligent strands that it was hard to know what to make of this jumbled early-season offering from the London Symphony Orchestra. Originally devised for Colin Davis, who died in April, it straddled Mozart, Dvorák and the contemporary. Davis’s benign presence might have pulled it all together, but rarely, rarely, did his spirit of delight linger over the proceedings.

His memory was most honourably served in the all-Mozart first half, comprising the Rondo in A minor and the Piano Concerto No 17. Here, in the intimacies of Mozart’s least exuberant music and the unfussy focus Mitsuko Uchida brought to it, were simplicity, solemnity and, yes, spirituality, echoing some of the depths the older Davis found in his music-making. Uchida’s loving, tender articulation of the Rondo’s sorrowful lines made this a very personal elegy in homage to a conductor she worked so happily with, and her refusal to sentimentalise the concerto’s Andante created an enveloping, engrossing effect. There was not a gesture or decoration wasted, nor any lack of nimble wit in the finale’s variations, where Robin Ticciati’s warm-hearted conducting was like a chip off the old block (Davis having been one of his mentors).

Ticciati was less at home in Dvorák’s Fifth Symphony, a work of bucolic rumbustiousness, noisy and repetitive, which he treated like a big and boisterous hound straining at the leash. The LSO played the part well, but could have done with some taming. Between the Mozart and Dvorák they brought a lot of refinement to a new 13-minute tone poem by Matthew Kaner (born 1986) – an LSO Panufnik Young Composers Scheme commission part-funded by the Helen Hamlyn Trust.

This was an honest “first try” by a composer who has yet to devise the means to express his own personality. Kaner knows his orchestra: everything was technically well achieved, but the title, The Calligrapher’s Manuscript, was a nonsense. The piece sounded like a pastiche of Berg, Stravinsky and Debussy – familiar sonorities coursing through the wind instruments and percussion but next to no development. Let’s hope Kaner locates his own voice before he gets his next big commission.

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