News Column

Review: Classical: LSO/Cooper/Elder Barbican, London 32/40

May 6, 2014

Guy Dammann

Only five months into Richard Strauss's 150th anniversary year, I was wondering if I'd already heard enough of his music for a while. But this concert, part of the London Symphony Orchestra's Strauss 150 series, came as a breath of fresh air.

The main reason was the inclusion of Strauss's first symphonic poem, Macbeth, a fascinating piece that is almost never done, inexplicably so to judge from this wonderful performance under Mark Elder. As Elder explained in his generous introduction, the tone poem doesn't tell the story of Macbeth so much as paint psychological portraits of its characters and their relationships with each other. The orchestra magnificently brought out the way Lady Macbeth's material slides into the room, its semitonal windings seeping into the more foursquare heroism of her husband's material. Also fascinating was how Strauss pointed to the genuine romantic and optimistic passion between Macbeth and his wife.

Elder worked wonderfully with this orchestra, particularly in the opening, Op 7, wind serenade, but also in the concluding Till Eulenspiegel. Listening to the players and incorporating their lead in his conducting paid Elder rich musical dividends. In both works, the woodwind was in stupendous form, and in the Serenade, the conductor's only role seemed to be one of occasionally drawing each player gently back from their reveries and into the fold.

The final breath of fresh air came not from Strauss but Mozart, with Imogen Cooper's performance of E flat piano concerto K471. This can be a staid work, but here it was a marvel of charm, wit and restraint. I can't think when I've heard it better played.

Guy Dammann

On BBC iPlayer until Sunday.


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Source: Guardian (UK)

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