What to do when you have a programme centred around a singer and she falls ill on the morning of the concert, rehearsals done? This was the dilemma faced by Gianandrea Noseda and the LSO when Diana Damrau felt unable to perform and thus the premiere of Iain Bell’s The Hidden Place, written for her, had to be shelved along with the Final Scene of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio. One felt sorry for Bell (his Jack the Ripper had premiered at ENO the previous evening) since this 2009 song-cycle has already had to wait for its first airing.
Noseda made the announcement and did so with candour and humour. In place of the Damrau items, LSO leader Roman Simovic played Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and did so from memory and considerable panache, with a tension-breaking amusing glance at the opening bars of the conductor’s score just before the performance to which there was a thrilling sense of spontaneity and flexibility, with generally fast tempos, especially in the Finale. Noseda was supremely responsive to Simovic, the LSO responding in kind, engaging with the bravado of their colleague suddenly in the spotlight. Simovic’s playing of the middle movement was as lyrical and as reflective as one could wish for.
The concert opened with an expansive account of ‘Moonlight Music’, which would have heralded the conclusion of Capriccio to close the concert, characterised by some amazingly long-breathed horn-playing and delicate swells and surges from the strings. The second half of the evening suffered slightly as, when played consecutively, Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel perhaps lack contrast since they were composed at a similar period of the composer’s output. Both were given ebullient extrovert readings, with the quieter middle section of Don Juan, given its interplay between middle and lower strings and oboe and later other woodwinds, brought a welcome moment of calm amidst the rich swirl.