United Kingdom Smetana, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Strauss: Simon Trpčeski (piano), London Symphony Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 25.2.2016 (AS)
Smetana: Richard III, Op. 11
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 in A, S125
Tchaikovsky: Fantasy Overture – Romeo and Juliet
Strauss: Macbeth, Op. 23
This concert formed part of the LSO’s contributions to a series of events coordinated by King’s College London under the title of “Shakespeare 400”, marking the 400th anniversary of the great man’s death. It was also Gianandrea Noseda’s first concert with the orchestra since the recent announcement of his appointment as its Principal Guest Conductor from August this year.
The Shakespeare theme inspired a programme that contained two rarely heard tone poems, Smetana’s Richard III and Strauss’s Macbeth. The former work opened the programme. As might be expected, the highly dramatic nature of Shakespeare’s play evoked a vigorous response in Smetana, and much of the piece has a turbulent quality. It begins promisingly in a quiet and pregnantly atmospheric mood, but soon the material declines into a sequence of noisy and empty bombastic gestures that are devoid of inspiration or character. This is not the Smetana of the First String Quartet, Má Vlast or The Bartered Bride and the work thoroughly deserves its neglect. Noseda and the LSO did their best for it in an energetic, drivingly virtuosic performance.
Orchestra and conductor also gave vigorous support to Simon Trpčeski in his performance of Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto, occasionally too much so, since the pianist’s strikingly beautiful tonal lustre was overwhelmed at times. Trpčeski found a quality of elegance and refinement in the music that is not often brought out, and his playing combined a certain aristocracy of delivery with exceptional, crystal-clear virtuosity. His was a most deeply considered and satisfying interpretation of the work. In the solo cello passages Rebecca Gilliver played with great beauty of tone and affecting eloquence.
Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet was given a most exciting reading, one that was full of energy, passion and colour. And yet Noseda was very alive to the changes of mood in the work: his changes of pulse and inflections were very telling, and the love theme was shaped with great tenderness.
If Smetana’s Richard III only merits a very occasional outing, the neglect of Macbeth among Strauss’s great tone poems is unjustified. Though it is the work of a young man it is constructed in a masterful fashion, is wonderfully scored and has a high quality of musical invention. These attributes were shown perfectly in a Barbican Hall performance by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly last October (review). In Noseda’s reading the LSO rivalled the Leipzig ensemble in its virtuosity if not in its tonal depth or refinement. Some of the blame for a certain brashness of delivery clearly attached to the conductor, for the driving intensity he found in the Tchaikovsky work was not so suitable for Strauss and his high Germanic style. There was plenty of excitement and tension, but not enough repose when this was needed, and the work’s elements of warmth and lofty romanticism were sometimes skimmed over. But it was still good to hear such an assured presentation of it.