Sally Beamish’s UK premiere charms and impresses during Noseda’s London Symphony Orchestra concert

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven, Beamish, Prokofiev: Janine Jansen (violin), Martin Fröst (clarinet), London Symphony Orchestra / Gianandrea Noseda (conductor). Barbican Hall, London 20.6.2024. (JR)

The LSO conducted by Gianandrea Noseda © Mark Allan

Beethoven – Overture – Leonore No.3, Op.72b
BeamishDistans – Concerto for Violin and Clarinet
Prokofiev – Symphony No.7

Gianandrea Noseda impresses many listeners with his frenetic energy and animated gestures on the podium, although some may be distracted or feel, as some of the orchestral players no doubt do, that some of the histrionics are unnecessary. There is however no denying that he draws the best from an orchestra and yields impressive results. This was a blazing Leonore No.3 overture. The fervour was electric, the speeds were the fastest imaginable and even the fine string sections of the London Symphony Orchestra struggled to keep up. It made for a thrilling curtain-raiser. Gareth Davies, principal flute, was rightly given immediate thanks by the conductor.

Sally Beamish is a celebrated British contemporary composer. She was a viola player with the London Sinfonietta and with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, as was her mother: this explains the chamber-like intimacy which runs through many of her works. She has Scottish roots but has also lived in Sweden. Distans (‘distance’ in Swedish) was written during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown and explores ideas of connection and isolation. As many were, Beamish was separated from some of her loved ones at the time; the composition became an expression of longing. This was the UK premiere of the work, the first performance took place during Covid and without an audience, just with cameras filming the event. The first live performance had to be postponed.

Violinist Janine Jansen, clarinettist Martin Fröst and the LSO conducted by Gianandrea Noseda © Mark Allan

In Distans the soloists first call to each other from offstage, as though calling the cows on remote pastures. The soloists emerge from their opposite sides of the stage to greet one another centre stage with a fast dance, accompanied by the tinkling of cowbells. A second dance is inspired by the Swedish nyckelharpa, a fiddle with keys and many strings, Beamish reflecting these notes in the strings. The three-movement piece is fascinating throughout and exudes much charm. Janine Jansen produced ethereal sounds and the sweetest of tone, whilst Swedish clarinettist Martin Fröst wowed us with his mastery of his instrument, from its depths to its squeaky top notes, with much fancy footwork as is his wont. The orchestra’s percussion section was busy throughout, though I felt the bongo drum accompanying the final Dutch melody a mite incongruous. The concerto ends as it began, the soloists leaving the stage in opposite directions as they play their final phrases, as though calling to each other across a distanced landscape. I am confident the work will receive many further performances; it is an utterly charming work. The composer was in attendance and received very warm applause.

Noseda continues his Prokofiev symphonic cycle and brought us the composer’s final symphony, his Seventh. This is not one of Prokofiev’s more popular works (his First, the ‘Classical’, and Fifth take pride of place there), but it has its moments and is well worth being heard on occasion. Noseda made a cogent case for its performance, even though even the most perfect performance (this one being recorded for LSO Live and filmed for broadcast on Marquee TV on 11 July) does not convince that this is a major work. It was composed, after Prokofiev had returned to Russia, for the Soviet Children’s Radio Division and combines fairy-tale magic with a degree of melancholy, perhaps the composer’s nostalgia for lost youth. The five percussionists saw plenty of action, particularly the lithe glockenspiel; the composer adds saxophone, piano and harp for added colour. Noseda danced his way through the second movement’s animated waltz: the slow movement has the composer surprisingly running out of memorable tunes and my attention waned. Smiles all round when the final movement started, a rumbustious gallop and ominous tick-tock from flute and glockenspiel.

This was a most interesting and enjoyable concert.

John Rhodes

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