LSO/Rattle review – lyrical Walton and outstanding Leila Josefowicz

Barbican, London
Walton’s First Symphony was superbly played and conducted – as was Colin Matthews’s Violin Concerto, with Josefowicz as the fiercely committed soloist

Simon Rattle is starting just his third year as the London Symphony Orchestra’s music director, but he has already established a tradition of opening each new season at the Barbican with a programme of British music. The premiere of a specially commissioned work alongside a repertory piece and the revival of a score that deserves to become one is a well-used concert formula, and Rattle relied on it to begin his orchestra’s 2019-20 campaign.

The repertory classic was Walton’s First Symphony, a work in which both conductor and orchestra have distinguished pedigrees – Rattle recorded it with the CBSO in the early 1990s, while the LSO made what has become perhaps the most celebrated recording of it with André Previn half a century ago. The Barbican performance suggested that Rattle has modified his reading over the years, now playing down the music’s macho swagger, and emphasising the lyricism that can be found especially in the slow movement, but even in the lines that thread through the opening Allegro – though he could do little to mitigate the rowdiness of the scherzo, or the finale’s Hollywood film-score rhetoric.

But technically the performance was outstanding, just as the account of Colin Matthews’s Violin Concerto before it had been. The concerto soloist was Leila Josefowicz, who played at the work’s premiere in Birmingham in 2009.

Then it came across as an impressive, unconventionally disquieting work. It seems even more powerful now, partly because of Josefowicz’s fierce commitment to a solo part that never parades virtuosity for its own sake, but also because its challenges always serve a searching and rewardingly complex musical argument.

The brand-new piece, though, was a disappointment. Perhaps the most demanding aspect of Emily Howard’s Antisphere was understanding the concept behind the title, borrowed from non-Euclidean geometry. The music itself was far less engaging – a sequence of apparently disconnected gestures, rather abrasively scored and blurred with microtones, but sometimes lurching into unambiguous tonality. Rattle and his orchestra presented it as immaculately as anyone could wish.

• Streamed on the LSO YouTube channel on 21 September.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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