If he could, would Beethoven have chosen Mitsuko Uchida to première his final piano concerto? They certainly seem to inhabit the same creative plane, at once revelling in the innovative – nay, revolutionary – features, whilst enjoying the grand connections with their historical precedents too. This was the first concerto that Beethoven himself could not perform, his deafness having become all too severe by 1811; and to this end, there is perhaps more 'Beethoven' in this concerto than in any of his previous – a strong compositional stamp in place of his own playing.
As such, there is much to dramatise in the music, all of which was thrillingly captured by Uchida's imaginative approach. The first movement was distinguished by the sudden shifts of character effected by Uchida, moving from the rapt attention commanded by her taut control of the rigid cross-rhythms to the sunny bloom of the cantabile melodies. Then, in the slow movement, each phrase grew to its natural height before falling beautifully under its own weight, sung with a tone of utmost clarity. And the finale, emerging in good humour from the preceding adagio, was delivered with a heroism that fully justified Johann Baptist Cramer's epithet, the 'Emperor' concerto.
This was a full exploration of what a concerto has to offer – at times a contest, and at others, a collaboration – met at every corner by Colin Davis' supportive control. A tremendous final cadence to their exciting Beethoven cycle.
With similar energy came Nielsen's Third Symphony, entitled Sinfonia Espansiva, owing to its long-breathed lines, rather than its overall length. Indeed, this is music that could all too easily stagnate, requiring both a clear sense of trajectory and immediate response to the detail to be rendered successfully. It was noted in the rehearsals for the first performance in 1911 that this was a work that could take one's breath away, a feat rediscovered by the LSO. From the high-octane charge of the first movement to the attractive and broad hymnody of the finale, this was orchestral playing that caught the imagination and quickened the pulse.
It was a shame then that the start of the concert did not share similar dynamism. Haydn's Ninety-Third Symphony was actually the third of the so-called 'London' symphonies to be composed, despite being the first in number. Written for the large orchestra kept by Johann Peter Salomon – the musical impresario of late-eighteenth-century London – it fills a larger frame than that of many of its predecessors. But it is not a big-boned enough work to merit such a heavy and grounded performance, which missed the dance, along with much-needed light and shade.