This LPO concert illustrated why the trusty old formula of Overture-Concerto-Symphony works so well. Nowadays many attractive starters are neglected. Edward Gardner opened with Egmont, its opening chords delivered with granitic weight. Beethoven’s pithy encapsulation of the Dutch aristocrat’s fight for his nation’s freedom received an interpretation of great power, and caught its variegated moods successfully.
Elgar’s Cello Concerto was played by Kian Soltani – born in Austria to a Persian family – who first came to public attention as principal cellist of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and has quickly carved a name as a soloist. Soltani’s account of the Elgar was passionate and spontaneous. There was real gravitas to the opening, which yielded to strikingly ruminative playing from Soltani and a highly effective whispered accompaniment. Notable was the manner in which Soltani applied a markedly lighter touch to the final note of certain phrases – something as unusual as it was appealing. This was a truly collaborative account, to be remembered when many others are forgotten, not least for the profound soulfulness achieved in the Adagio.
As an encore, Soltani (confessing to it being a non-sequitur) offered his own delightful Persian Fire Dance, replete with middle-Eastern melancholy, infectious dance rhythms, and some tapping of the instrument.
The opening movement of Mahler’s First Symphony begins with an A, intended to conjure the Creation of the World. Gardner obtained a veritable miracle of raptness here, and although as the first movement developed there was the odd moment when tension sagged slightly, the ‘Ging heut Morgen ubers Feld’ theme was beautifully done, and the bleaker moments that intrude before the joyous conclusion were highly atmospheric. There was a palpably peasant-like quality to the Ländler Scherzo – the cellos really digging in – and the waltz of the Trio offered further remarkable contributions from the woodwinds.
The third movement’s contrasts between the ‘Bruder Martin’ theme (initiated by a double bass), the klezmer-influenced passages, and further references to the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen song-cycle, were vividly delineated. Mahler described the start of the Finale as a “horrible outcry”, representing the despair of his hero, and that startling moment – as well as the protagonist’s ensuing journey towards victory over fate – found the LPO in commanding form, not least the brass. Gardner’s reading was very impressive, galvanising the Symphony’s complex elements into a convincing whole.