In this intensely Romantic programme, the choice of music pointed to the ways in which art and life can be closely intertwined, from Wagner's Idyll to celebrate the birth of his son (also called Siegfried), to Joachim's fingerprints in the Brahms concerto or Strauss's tone poem on Death and Transfiguration.
But first, a new commission by Gary Carpenter presented a more light-hearted approach, a 5-minute musical postcard entitled Fred & Ginger after the dancing stars. This hinted at the harmonies of popular songs of composers like Irving Berlin, which as the composer notes, share some overlap with classical composers such as Schoenberg who were working at the same time. Yet for all its rhythmic playfulness, this was a work that owed more to twentieth-century avant garde composers than to the dance hall tunes of the 1920s.
The LSO captured the drama of Brahms' Violin Concerto, from the warm opening in D major to the unsettling journeys into D minor and back again. Janine Jansen proved herself to be a soloist of the highest calibre, her playing dazzling and charming in equal measure. She made light work of one of the most demanding concertos in the repertoire, known to have been described as 'a concerto not for, but against the violin.' The ferocious double stops had plenty of bite without being too harsh-sounding, while her left hand slid effortlessly up and down the fingerboard to reveal the intricacies of the cadenza with utmost clarity.
The oboe solo in the middle had a gentle warmth and lilt, while the rest of the movement had a burning focus that was almost unbearable in its intensity. Playfulness abounded in the finale, the lively gypsy style paying homage the origins of the work’s dedicatee, Joseph Joachim. After receiving a large bouquet of roses, Jansen then handed them to the principal oboist in a well-deserved mark of appreciation.
The Siegfried Idyll revealed Wagner at his most heartfelt and sincere, with tender strings punctuated by bursts of sunshine from the winds. The Strauss opened with a strikingly dark orchestral colour, with sustained contrabassoon suggesting a church organ which was underscored by a funereal march on the timpani. The pulsating orchestral heartbeat then faded to reveal an awakening into a new world, before the piece culminated in an explosion of light with the 'transfiguration'. For me this journey from darkness to light was the thrilling highlight of the programme.