The plans for the London Symphony Orchestra’s 2007/8 season show how its new faces are settling in. While recently-appointed principal conductor Valery Gergiev will be concentrating on a complete cycle of Mahler’s symphonies, Daniel Harding will embrace German, Czech and British music, and more besides.
This opening series – “Daniel Harding: a Portrait” – is already aiming to show that the orchestra’s new principal guest conductor is a man of many parts. Thursday’s concert promised an all-French programme, but there were a couple of surprises along the way.
It opened with Boulez’s Mémoriale for solo flute and small instrumental ensemble – little more than an aperitif, with clear, liquid sounds that prepare the palette for almost anything else. What we had afterwards was Ravel’s G Major Piano Concerto, but not Ravel as we know it.
Lang Lang was the soloist and his larger-than-life playing was a long way from the quietly-spoken precision that is usual in this concerto. The sense of the music being improvised as he went along was captivating, and the echoes of jazz and Stravinsky were not out of place, but Lang Lang the virtuoso does like to let himself go. I am not sure the ultra fastidious Ravel would have been amused.
Another surprise was to come with an extra item added to the programme. In Luke Bedford’s Outblaze the sky a large orchestra describes an arc of sound hanging in the air, almost motionless at times and often beautiful, but just at the point when one was ready for the piece to move on, it stopped – a shame.
Then Harding turned to what was clearly intended to be a blistering performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, played with drive by the LSO. But something was missing: this was the symphony in only two dimensions, brilliant in its delivery of the notes, but without the essential third dimension of imagination, colour and flexibility that would open upthe subconscious side of Berlioz’s extraordinarily fervid visions.
Harding and the LSO are off to China and Japan now, taking Lang Lang and most of this programme with them.
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