A hush fell over the auditorium as renowned concert pianist and long-standing friend of the LSO Mitsuko Uchida took her seat for Mozart’s Rondo in A minor for solo piano. A personal tribute to Sir Colin Davis, Uchida opened the Rondo with almost childlike simplicity, the delicate chromaticism of the opening theme played with simplicity and tenderness and a magical connection to the melodic line. The pensive nature of the opening expanded into waves of ever-shifting melancholic emotion made more striking by its attachment to a form usually associated with more cheerful sentiment. Uchida nourished the melodic lines throughout the ethereal and fleeting thematic matter and every time the opening theme returned it seemed to have a deeper meaning.
The London Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Robin Ticciatti, joined Uchida on the Barbican Hall stage for Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 17 in G major (1784). This concerto has an extrovert and operatic demeanour, and its joyful, march-like opening was immediately engaging, with a warm and welcoming string sound. The playful interaction between orchestra and soloist was beautifully managed, with the melodic fragments seamlessly passing from the piano to solo wind and back again. Uchida is well known not only as a pianist, but also for her direction, often from the keyboard, of chamber music and larger works. This made for a wonderful partnership between the orchestral players and the piano, with a real sense of partnership and communication throughout, which was beautiful to witness. After a doleful second movement, a distinctly bird-like theme reminiscent of Papageno’s in The Magic Flute opened the third, in which solo lines and accompaniment weave together, with deceptively virtuosic arpeggiated passages in the piano accompaniment always well balanced with the soloists in the orchestra.
The second half opened with the world première of Matthew Kaner’s The Calligrapher’s Manuscript. A graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Kaner is part of the LSO Panufnik Young Composers Scheme, which annually offers six emerging composers the opportunity to have their music workshopped by the LSO. Tonight’s commission, the result of this collaboration, was inspired by the intricate designs of 17th-century calligrapher Johann Hering. The process of decorating an initial letter of a larger text developed into elaborate filigree surrounding complete text and finally transformed into more abstract designs. This formed the basis for tonight’s work, with elaborate ornamentation coalescing into a main theme and then expanding into ever more complex layers of material which finally dissolve into a few subdued string phrases in the finishing coda. The ethereal nature of Kaner’s soundworld was extremely interesting, and his use of the full orchestral texture, including a substantial percussion section, was almost like film music in its ambition and scale.
To finish tonight’s concert, the final few members of the orchestra joined the stage for Dvořák’s Symphony no. 5 in F major. There is some confusion about the numbering of Dvořák’s symphonies, as for many years the musical world behaved as if Dvorak had written only five – tonight’s was chronologically the fifth, even though it was originally known as the third. The expansive orchestration of the symphony makes for a rich and colourful soundworld, with boisterous, characteristically rustic themes. The first movement, after rolling waves of stormy emotion have passed, ebb away into a more peaceful string conclusion. Based on a Slavonic folk-dance, the Dumka, the second movement is rather more melancholy, with a simple opening melody contrasting with a more lyrical middle section with plucked string accompaniment. This leads without break into the third movement – a cheeky Scherzo, whose playful theme passes from section to section within the orchestra with unexpected pauses and use of all the orchestral colours. The final movement is instantly darker and more intense, with the continual conflict of emotion providing the musical drama and colour. The light finally triumphs over the darkness and the symphony comes to the most exuberant of ending, with trumpet fanfares and timpani rolls. The thunderous applause for both orchestra and conductor was well deserved.