A year ago, Krystian Zimerman was the concerto soloist in Simon Rattle’s first appearance with the London Symphony Orchestra after Rattle was confirmed as its next music director. Pianist and conductor were also reunited for the last concert of this season – Zimerman played Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto – and though the performance never quite reached the same level of intensity as last year’s memorable Brahms performance, there was still a wonderful poise in his approach and the care with which every detail had been considered.
The first half of the concert had obviously been conceived as a unity: Rattle began by conducting a perfectly hushed account of Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question, the interrogating solo trumpet and the ethereal strings off stage, the querulous quartet of flutes stationed around the edge of the platform, and that led without a break into the concerto’s solo piano opening. The first two movements of the concerto were elided, so the 45-minute span became a seamless whole, with Zimerman’s delicate, crystalline playing tracing its trajectory.
Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony emerged as seamless, too – no small achievement in a work that sometimes rambles and makes one long for the approach of old-school Russian conductors, who habitually cut 15 minutes of music from the score. Rattle never lingered and only occasionally made his musical points a little too forcefully. The entire thing was so gloriously played by the LSO – the textures securely founded on the row of double basses arrayed across the back of the orchestra on the highest platform level – that the effect was overwhelming.