Beijing Symphony Orchestra/LPO/Tan – review

Royal Festival Hall, London

There's nothing quite like Beethoven's Choral Symphony, especially if you hear it three times over one weekend. Beginning with 27 July's magnificent Prom, which I listened to again on iPlayer the following day (just to check it really was as good as it seemed), the evening of 29 July's performance by players from the Beijing Symphony and London Philharmonic Orchestras, under the baton of the Beijing SO's music director Tan Lihua, inevitably suffered by comparison. But the beauty of this piece is that once the choir and soloists turn up the heat in the finale, former disappointments are very soon forgotten.

Programmed as part of the South Bank's Festival of the World, and commemorating the Beijing-London Olympic handover, the concert began with a "gift" in the form of a new work, a Lotus Overture by Guo Wenjing, a Sichuan composer who is known abroad but only little, having based his career almost entirely in China. The overture proved a delicate and rather wonderful thing. Based around carefully controlled clusters and textures, it opened up, prodded by a wonderful partnership between tuba and tam-tam, into a bright central section before fading again to the opening gesture in the violins and harp. A second piece, Tan Jianping Sacred Fire Percussion Concerto from 2008, was a more exuberant and altogether less interesting offering, though impressively executed by the orchestra and by the soloist for whom it was written, Li Biao.

As for the Beethoven, perhaps it was the unfamiliar partnerships within the orchestra, or a lack of imagination on the part of Tan, but this was a fairly desultory reading, plagued by synchronisation problems. Thanks to the inspiringly precise and passionate interventions of the world-class soloists (Matthew Rose, Andrew Kennedy, Ning Liang and Rebecca Evans) and the London Philharmonic Choir, however, the finale was every bit as uplifting as it should be.


Guy Dammann

The GuardianTramp

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