tue 23/07/2024

Zimerman, LSO, Rattle, LSO St Luke's review - rainbow colours, continuity and imperial soaring | reviews, news & interviews

Zimerman, LSO, Rattle, LSO St Luke's review - rainbow colours, continuity and imperial soaring

Zimerman, LSO, Rattle, LSO St Luke's review - rainbow colours, continuity and imperial soaring

The richest of palettes applied to Beethoven, while Stravinsky sings and dances

Krystian Zimerman recording Beethoven at LSO St Luke'sAll images by Mark Allan for DG except where otherwise stated

Adaptability backed up by funding has been the course of the most successful musical organisations since mid-March – but it’s been especially tough from November onwards.

One abrupt lockdown meant that anything scheduled to be performed before a carefully limited live audience within or around that month bit the dust, and the London Symphony Orchestra’s series planned to match Beethoven piano concertos with Stravinsky’s smaller-scale orchestral works at the Barbican with Krystian Zimerman as soloist and Simon Rattle conducting was a major casualty. So was the Beethoven concertos marathon they planned instead for yesterday. In between, though, they recorded just about everything at LSO St Luke’s, and the resulting films have to serve as miracle enough for us in Beethoven anniversary week.

Zimerman, who’s arguably been producing the most beautiful range of sounds a pianist can from a keyboard since he won the Ninth International Chopin Competition as a fresh-faced young man in 1975, recorded the Beethoven concertos 30 years ago with Bernstein. His questing spirit has not stayed still, or ossified; if anything, the forward movement is now more impulsive, the freedom to play with ideas differently on their second or third appearances even more surprising (I’m thinking especially of the cantering theme in the finale of the Second Piano Concerto, but all these last movements have equal sparkle). And it’s a joy to see him living the music when he’s not playing, in responsive action with the players and Rattle – who knows how to pick up with the orchestra from his sudden spontaneities, a watchful eye indeed. Zimerman/LSO/Rattle at LSO St Luke'sThe respectful teamwork (afternoon session pictured above) allows for an interplay of pianist and woodwind players you’d expect more from a late Mozart concerto. The first movement of the Third here, featured in the first session on Zimerman’s birthday, is revelatory to me in that respect; the LSO’s wind team on this occasion featured oboist Juliana Koch, to be featured next year, plans permitting, in the Strauss Oboe Concerto, but her co-principal Olivier Stankiewicz is also outstanding. Lovely work, too, from first clarinettist Chris Richards.

The second concert seems to have a touch more tension, not unhelpful in the central conflict between Orpheus and the Furies in No 4. No 2 feels bigger, less Mozartian, than usual, but that may be to adapt to the scale of its remarkable first-movement cadenza. The final event in the series is certainly that, hitting the heights from the off with a newly-expanded orchestra. Zimerman unleashes his most magisterial sonorities at the start; the orchestra responds by soaring like an eagle – I don’t think I’m imagining the special ode-to-joy quality in this performance of a work which can seem too over-emphatic in its heroism. The first movement simply rides the thermals unerringly until the explosions at the heart of the development, after which it slowly eases itself down – more magical work from the soloist here – the better to fly again in the recap. Nowhere is Zimerman’s singular sense of continuity more beautifully articulated than in that transition from time-standing-still slow movement to airy burst of exuberance to kickstart the finale, but ever so elegantly. Simon Rattle in LSO St Luke's Olympus preceded imperial heaven in this session: a huge complement of strings, Karajan-style, for Stravinsky’s ballet Apollo, the beginning of his auspicious partnership with that greates of choreographers George Balanchine. It can work with a chamber orchestra, but Rattle (pictured above) drew a focused sensuousness in the resonance of arching phrases and gorgeous divisi from a full LSO department. In between came many glinting, flashing solos, led by ever-companionable, alert and considerate leader Roman Simovic, further gilded by cellist Rebecca Gilliver in the haunting refrains of the Pas de deux. I was lucky to be present at the full Stravinsky session on the evening before lockdown: a glorious 100 minutes taking us from eight musicians to a big orchestra occupying the entire floor space of St Luke’s below the gallery where we lucky spectators observed the interplay and obvious rapport of an orchestra which has become so much more of a team since Rattle took over.

Simply the sound of the woodwind and brass tuning up before the Symphonies of Wind Instruments, following a punchy but also mellifluous Octet, was unusually exciting: a seething aural sea beneath, if you’ll forgive the muddied metaphorical fantasy. Blendings on that vast scale were as impeccable as those of pairs within the opening eight. Centrepiece was Orpheus, a more austere and dark response to Apollo, paradoxically with a wider orchestral palette (some atmospheric sonorities to be had from sitting above the halo of strings while trumpets sounded far to the right). LSO in St Luke's for StravinskyStravinsky when he writes tends to put inverted commas around “heart”, but there is little more moving in his mercurial output than the Air de Danse led by two oboes – the second later replaced with extra poignancy by cor anglais – which emulates Bach, rising to its model rather than parodying or distorting it. With this number of strings the Beethovenian nobility of Orpheus’s Pas de deux with Eurydice before he looks back made one sit bolt upright; the ritual ripping-apart of the hero by the Furies was electric, the final apotheosis quietly stunning.

Then, twelve brisk encores (final bow to the balcony pictured above by David Thompson) with continuity between most of them in the shape of the Four Norwegian Moods, adapted from unused music for a Second World War film, and the First and Second Suites, playing on various pieces for children (simple left hand, complicated right, and vice versa). The final raucous Galop proved a suitable nose-thumbing to the lockdown shortly to follow, who knows for how long? But the filmed events – the Stravinskys will be released anon – should provide more than a little consolation in the meantime.

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