United Kingdom Strauss and Tchaikovsky: Roman Simovic (violin), London Symphony Orchestra / Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 31.3.2019. (AS)
Strauss – Capriccio, ‘Moonlight Interlude’
Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D Op.35
Strauss – Don Juan Op.20
Strauss – Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche Op. 28
Until 45 minutes before the starting time of the concert, we were expecting to hear the following programme:
Strauss – Don Juan Op.20
Iain Bell – The Hidden Place (world premiere)
Strauss – Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche Op.28
Strauss – Capriccio, ‘Closing scene’
However, at 18.15 the soprano Diana Damrau, who was to have been the soloist in the Bell work and in the closing scene from Capriccio, finally had to realise that the deteriorating condition of her voice was such that she could not perform in the concert.
After discussion, the LSO’s leader Roman Simovic agreed, just 25 minutes before the scheduled start of the concert, to play the solo part in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. In an elegantly worded announcement from the rostrum Gianandrea Noseda explained what had happened and what would now take place, before conducting the orchestra in the ‘Moonlight Interlude’ which they would have played anyway as part of the Closing Scene from Strauss’s Capriccio. This brief but atmospheric little piece stands perfectly well on its own, and formed an appropriate prelude to the Tchaikovsky work.
Enter Roman Simovic to sustained applause, and after a hug from the acting leader Carmen Lauri he broke the tension and caused audience laughter by appearing to consult the conductor’s score to see what he would be playing. In fact, he played the concerto from memory.
It would be pardonable in the circumstances to expect some lapses and some tentativeness in an entirely unrehearsed performance, but what we heard was an astonishingly confident and technically perfect delivery of the solo part and completely assured playing by the LSO, with Noseda following his soloist and guiding his orchestral forces unerringly, even when Simovic introduced some unusually marked variations of tempo in the last movement, which he took at an excitingly fast pace. How Noseda managed almost to anticipate and accommodate the soloist’s twist and turns one can’t imagine. Also notable in Simovic’s performance was a most poetic account of the central Canzonetta movement. He is an experienced soloist, who clearly knew the concerto intimately from past performances, and it will also have been familiar to conductor and orchestral players alike, but it was an almost incredible feat on the part of all involved to conjure such an outstandingly virile performance from nowhere.
Predictably, Simovic received a lasting ovation from the audience and all his colleagues. As if he hadn’t contributed enough already he even returned to lead the orchestra and play the solo passages in the two Strauss works, and was greeted with more enthusiastic applause when he entered the platform to do so. The evening had been set alight and now conductor and orchestra combined to deliver inspired performances of the two Strauss tone poems. Noseda’s interpretations were bang in the tradition of those of the great Strauss conductors of the past (including the composer himself); his characterisation of each dramatic episode in both works was outstandingly vivid and the LSO’s playing was not only perfect but had enormous vitality.
But in the end a thought must be spared for Iain Bell, who must have been bitterly disappointed to have the long-delayed first performance of his work cancelled (it was composed in 2009, the programme told us); and Diana Damrau must have been quite mortified at having to be the cause of the cancellation. Let us hope that soloist and composer get a chance finally to present The Hidden Place before too long.