LSO/Rattle review – all-British programme sparkles and soars

Barbican, London
The London Symphony Orchestra opened their new season with British music - a Birtwistle premiere alongside works by Holst, Britten and Turnage

Who else but Simon Rattle could have sold out the Barbican Hall with this programme? The London Symphony Orchestra’s season-opener was a medley of British music, new, newish or obscure in the first half, with Britten’s choral extravaganza Spring Symphony, big but hardly a blockbuster, in the second. A year after he took over the orchestra, Rattle’s presence on the podium still hasn’t lost its sparkle.

The programme was in fact tautly constructed, full of cross-echoes. Harrison Birtwistle provided the three-minute curtain-raiser, Donum Simoni MMXVIII – Simon’s Gift. A heavyweight among fanfares, it set us up for an evening of searing playing from the brass in particular, trumpets glowing up high, tuba chattering down low, wind and drums and bells joining in to make a great snarling rumble. The last word goes to the lone tuba, a deadpan sign-off adding a touch of humour.

Then came Egdon Heath, Holst’s homage to Thomas Hardy. It started with the double basses, finessing their solo line into something delicate and ethereal; picked up and passed around the orchestra, the theme twisted, overlapped and was woven into something bleakly, mistily evocative. This work should be heard more often. Unease, of a more pointed kind, reigns too in Dispelling the Fears, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s double trumpet concerto of 1995. Gábor Tarkövi and the LSO’s own Philip Cobb were the poised, punchy soloists, their instruments shadowing and chasing each other in a kind of wary dance.

After unease, release. The Spring Symphony filled the hall with singers: the LSO Chorus, on exceptional form; the children of the Tiffin schools; and three soloists – Alice Coote, Elizabeth Watts and Allan Clayton – who made every word count of the magpie stash of poetry that Britten had set. Clayton especially was superb, paring his tenor down to the finest thread and holding us rapt. This 1948 work has a dark side, but at heart it’s an outpouring of thanks after wartime. As the final movement hurtled towards its close, the chorus swayed rumbustiously, the children sang out through cupped hands, and the mood turned anarchic – it might have been September outside the hall, but inside spring was breaking out.

Contributor

Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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