An early evening concert with a light-hearted programme seemed like a good idea in this dark November lockdown. The live audience of office workers caught on the way home was replaced by this live-streamed event from the beautiful setting of St Luke’s in Farringdon.
The first work was a rarity in the concert hall, the Concerto for Strings by the talented and prolific Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz. In three concise movements it is not an ambitious work, but it is a good introduction to the neo-classical earlier style and distinctive harmonic language of the composer that didn’t change greatly over the next 20 years. This lack of progression in her style was the probably the reason why her music has largely been ignored since her death in 1969 until more recent revivals in the recording studio. It was the more exploratory Lutosławski and Penderecki that lead the way in Poland.
The opening Allegro is rhythmically determined with flecks of lyricism. The strings of the LSO were certainly rich and rounded here, but never too rotund to overpower the music. Paavo Jarvi kept the tempo moving and also found a deeply brooding quality in the Andante that followed. Here one felt that Bacewicz was at her most personal, troubled and heartfelt. The final Vivo movement returns to the dynamism of the Allegro this time seeming to seek out an untroubled major key resolution.
Haydn's Sinfonia Concertante in B flat major for oboe, bassoon, violin and cello is one of those works that you could describe as being sublime in its pure sense of joy. Haydn was the true master of happy music, without ever sounding shallow or trite. This work, one of a handful of important concertante works he produced amongst his vast output. The work was given the sort of performance one would ideally wish for. With a biggish string section, it was not an “authentic” style of interpretation, but there was an emphasis on clarity, as well as moments of more romantic lyricism. The soloists, taken from the front desks of the orchestra, showed their mettle in the extensive first movement. Particularly fine playing from cellist Rebecca Gilliver and the beautiful French tones of oboist Olivier Stankiewicz here. The Andante had an appropriate intermezzo feel to it, with a good tempo choice and all four soloists relishing the beautiful ensemble writing. The finale was fleet footed and witty, with the orchestra’s leader Roman Simović on fine form leading the charge to the warm and affirmative B flat major close.
Beethoven’s Symphony no. 8 F major is another work of full of good humour and wit. This is not the composer of the Grosse Fuga or the Ninth Symphony, it’s not even the composer of the idyllic Pastoral. The Eighth is a much more personal work. It is scaled down to human size, a work you felt was the product of a man and not a would-be god and as such Beethoven believed it to be a greater symphony than his ambitious Seventh.
Järvi and the LSO certainly revealed many subtleties of mood and orchestral colour. Never did Beethoven find more varied colours from the woodwind and the quality of the playing here from the whole section was outstanding. The humour was brought out well, for example the sudden interjections of brass and timpani in all the movements sounding playful and not frightening, as they can in some performances. The finale had some of the manic energy of the Seventh, but was never pushed too hard, its progress here remained pleasingly and appropriately earthbound.
This performance was reviewed from the live IDAGIO Global Concert Hall video stream.