There was much to enjoy in this evening's concert by the LSO, who were performing this programme for the second time this week. The two piano concertos of Shostakovich were suitably contrasted - though neither takes itself too seriously, the Second is lighter in character, with a tender slow movement to rival the popular concertos of Rachmaninov.
But first, the more brittle First Concerto for Piano and Trumpet, though the piano has the lion's share of the work throughout. The skittish opening was followed by a thick bass solo from the piano which had dark, brooding quality. Last time 23-year-old Philip Cobb performed this piece in the same hall, it was as a student with the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra, but the LSO's Principal Trumpet proved himself to be a worthy partner to the established Bronfman. Cobb's lyrical solos had an airy lightness which perfectly complemented the understated melancholy of the second movement. Like all the best supporting actors, he certainly made the most of what was given. As an advanced pianist, Shostakovich wrote this piece to play himself and Bronfman tackled the relentlessly demanding solo part with remarkable nimbleness, right up until the sparkling octaves of the finale, where the excitement was enhanced by Cobb's shining military fanfare.
The Second Concerto, written in a more popular, accessible style for the composer's 19-year-old son Maxim, felt somewhat pedestrian by comparison. This was not helped by Bronfman's reliance on the score - the opening lacked spontaneity and didn't pick up the pace until he unleashed the thunderous double octaves in the extreme bass register. Bronfman took great care to remain faithful to Shostakovich's own preferred style of playing: unsentimental and in strict tempo, but the result was that despite the exquisite string playing, the Andante felt hurried and uninvolved.
Where the finale of the First Concerto had parodied military music in a drunken march theme, here in the Second Concerto Shostakovich takes the dreaded Hanon piano exercises and makes them a feature of the music, bristling with energy through rapidly ascending semiquaver patterns. The jaunty finale, written in 7 beats to a bar had the more rustic feel of a folk theme, with bird-like chirrups from the wind.
From a composer who wrote in the aftermath of revolution, to Chopin's Revolutionary Etude Op. 10 No. 12 for the encore, performed here with a great aplomb and conviction that had been lacking in the Second Concerto. Just as in the fiendishly difficult passages of the First Concerto, Bronfman reminded us of his supreme virtuosity by making light work of Chopin's sweeping left hand figures, with plenty of drama and heroism.
Tchaikovsky's Third Symphony in D was the only one he wrote in a major key, but the rich chromaticism throughout created a great deal of emotional tension. The extended first movement felt like a complete work in itself. After an enigmatic and fragmented minor-key opening, the texture built in to a radiant theme, where the orchestra seemed to sit back and enjoy the sheer thrill of the tutti, driven throughout by the powerful engine of the timpani. The graceful wind solos of the German 'tedesca' in the second movment were contrasted by a more angular triplet figure in the trio. There was also a great deal of playfulness in the drawn-out ending, as the whimsical clarinet and bassoon played with our expectations by extending and fragmenting the theme further and further.
A particular highlight was the colourful sorcery of the Scherzo, where wispy string flourishes were answered by rapid wind cascades. However, the real star of the show was Principal Bassoonist Fredrik Ekdahl, also notable for his injection of energy into the solo bassoon opening of the Second Shostakovich Concerto. The triumphant finale was built around an exciting dialogue between different instruments, culminating in a driving 4-part fugue from the strings, before luxuriating in an expansive triplet figure. We were now firmly in D major, though not before Tchaikovsky played with our anticipation by drawing out a long, unresolved chromatic ascent. When we finally reached our destination, the sense of relief was almost palpable.