Anahata by Eloise Nancie Gynn is the product of the LSO Panufnik Young Composers Scheme. The 28-year-old composer grew up in Cornwall, in a house full of instruments from all over the world and a background in music that sowed the seeds of her broad stylistic range. Anahata means ‘heart chakra’, and the six-minute piece was inspired by her spiritual experiences on a recent journey to India. I admit that the chakra of my heart rather sinks at the prospect of journeys into Tantric stillness, however well intended, fearful that I’m in for another round of spiritual cherry-picking. Yet, although Anahata doesn’t grab you as particularly original it is beautifully written for orchestra and Gynn clearly has a finely developed ear for colour and timbre. So, while she may fall in with some of the tropes of mystical contemporary music – a glacially slow pulse setting forth on the well-worn path from darkness to light, and modish sound effects such as players blowing air down their instruments – Anahata still vanished some cynical preconceptions away. The way in which an oboe theme curled out of the texture had an attractive spontaneity that fed into an impressively robust climax, and the music’s meditative quality had the sort of quiet grandeur to which resistance was futile. With the LSO’s superbly atmospheric playing and Nicholas Collon’s searching direction confirming what a fine conductor he is, the cohesive, well-made strength of Anahata was firmly established.
Manfred Honeck was the conductor for the Schubert and Brahms, stepping in for Sir Colin Davis, who expects to return to the podium in the summer. Honeck’s approach to Schubert’ ‘Unfinished’ Symphony was combative, epic and tragic. The strings (nine double basses on the far left, violas and cellos in the middle) presented a massive spread of sound, supercharged with depth and responsiveness. You were left in no doubt as to the terse anxiety of the first movement, nor, even by Schubert’s standards, of its extreme expressiveness, exposed by Honeck’s emphasis of the music’s nakedly intense, epigrammatic contrasts. The anguished mood extended into the Andante, enhanced by being taken at roughly the same speed as the first movement, with a ravishingly played clarinet solo offering scant relief.
Honeck retreated, a bit, from epic contrast mode in Brahms’s Violin Concerto, but there was still a sumptuous solidity to the first movement. This worked greatly to Nikolaj Znaider’s advantage, providing the ideal foil to the aristocratic concentration of his playing. In tandem with Honeck’s attentive, flexible conducting, he established a marked rapport with the orchestra, balancing the music’s symphony and concerto differences with a liquid mobility. There’s discretion and intelligence to Znaider’s playing that defines the flavour of Brahms’s North-German/Viennese romanticism, elevated by the matchless, lyric sweetness of his tone. The elegiac tone of the slow movement was perfectly judged, prefaced by an achingly beautiful oboe solo, and the finale was energised by an emphatic, quasi-Brucknerian rhythmic weight. This wasn’t an overtly emotional performance, rather one in which the layers of Znaider’s musing intimacy spoke as loudly as the more bravura moments, and which clinched its restrained eloquence and passion. What a great violinist Znaider is, and he added a little unaccompanied Bach as an encore.