Being Dutch, I was already in elated spirits before entering the Barbican on Sunday evening (for those not following the World Cup, The Netherlands had just gone through to the quarter finals). But even if I had entered the hall in a more dejected mood, the music-making on stage would still have put me in the best of moods. Jonathan Nott and the London Symphony Orchestra delivered an energetic, precise and intense performance of Beethoven and Messiaen – with the latter’s Turangalîla Symphony being an absolute highlight.
The London Symphony Orchestra started off with an absolutely solid performance of Beethoven’s Symphony no.2 in D major. The playing was flawless and Jonathan Nott led the orchestra in a measured performance. The third and fourth movements were exciting and energetic – played with precision and passion. The strings were particularly impressive, their ranging from soft and lyrical to stately and monumental. The Second Symphony is a wonderful piece to hear in the concert hall – and it set the tone for the evening brilliantly – but it was the second half of the concert, with Messiaen’s momentous Turangalîla, that could almost make one forget about Beethoven’s symphony altogether.
Turangalîla is quite an extremely impressive piece to hear live; it lasts around 80 minutes, and its multi-layered and tireless nature can make it feel rather chaotic at times – though it is always well-organised chaos. In this performance Jonathan Nott and the London Symphony Orchestra convincingly proved that it is an exceptional piece of music. The transparency and rich colouring of the music were emphasized, with the help of soloists Steven Osborne on piano and Cynthia Millar on the ondes-Martenot. The positioning of these two instruments as well as the celeste and keyed glockenspiel at the front of the stage worked out very well – allowing these instruments to be the focal point while also often melting into the rest of the orchestra. This was particularly noticeable in Miller’s expert playing, the ondes-Martenot ranged from almost ear-splittingly loud at times to beautiful soothing and blended into the strings.
One of the main aspects of the Turangalîla that I love is its constantly evolving nature – there are beautiful motifs that reoccur in the music but overall there is a sense of unfolding, as if we are listening to a story slowly being told, with more aspects being revealed every minute. This makes for an exhilarating listen; in particular movements such as the Introduction and the fifth movement “Joie du Sang des Étoiles” are intensely captivating and the LSO’s performance really brought that out.
The LSO’s prominent brass and percussion sections were absolutely outstanding in their performance, and the entire orchestra was on fine form. Steven Osborne was extraordinary in the challenging piano part, and along with Cynthia Millar’s convincing turn on the ondes-Martenot the soloists often stole the show. Jonathan Nott was clearly comfortable with the music and the musicians, managing to rein them in when necessarily, but above all spurring them onto greater heights.
Despite its length and difficult, the Turangalîla is such a joy to listen to, and this evening's performance was exemplary in that it managed to both mesmerize and challenge the listener, and it definitely put a massive smile on my face. Unfortunately there were some audience members who did not agree; I noticed about a dozen people walk out throughout the piece. But they were far outnumbered by the amount of people giving a standing ovation at the end of the concert – a much more accurate reflection of the quality of the London Symphony Orchestra and Jonathan Nott’s performance.