In the second of three LSO programmes of Mozart Violin Concertos and Tchaikovsky Symphonies, it was abundantly clear that Nikolaj Znaider is equally at home as a conductor.
In the A-major Violin Concerto Znaider directed a pared-down orchestra with violinists and viola-players standing. Minimum vibrato and a slimmed-down tone contributed to a ‘historically-informed performance’. In the opening Allegro Znaider drew refinement and clean lines from the interactive players, and his own natural musicianship shone through, whether in phrases begun as a whisper or in assertive but never over-emphatic passages. The Adagio brought further delights, Mozart’s music lovingly manicured in a way that made you hold your breath. Turkish influences find their way into the jaunty Finale where stomping rhythms and chromatic slides add colour. Perhaps if Znaider had had an image of Mozart as a petulant teenager, it might have caught fire more; this was rustic merrymaking if rather well-behaved.
From Tchaikovsky’s idol to the Russian’s own Fifth Symphony, with the opening clarinet solo from Chris Richards suitably solemn and eloquently shaped – phrase-endings disappearing into the ether as if resigned to Fate. From this lugubrious beginning there unfolded a well-paced movement, Znaider generating plenty of momentum (without ever rushing) and ample energy to sustain its dramas; making his unequivocal presence was timpanist Nigel Thomas whose no-holds-barred approach summoned the Grim Reaper all on his own.
With barely a pause Znaider pushed on into the Andante cantabile; the lower strings purred with a warmth of tone that conjured a male-voice choir, a superb anchor to the tender musings of Bertrand Chatenet’s horn. Tempo changes registered but didn’t interrupt the flow and the climax was heartfelt, if somewhat synthetic. The third-movement waltz had just enough wind in its sails to conjure society ball-gowns and for the strings to be as light-as-air, and also vibrant interjections from horns, oboe and bassoon. Apart from one eyebrow-raising moment when the brakes were applied too heavily, when the music nearly came to a standstill, the Finale was an exciting affair. By the time we reached the maestoso this had become an adrenaline-fuelled account, the life-affirming closing pages (timpani now even more assertive!) suggesting Tchaikovsky shaking his fist at Fate.