The late great Edward Said said that Richard Strauss' obsession with the 18th century in his music was an assertion of "his own stubborn artificiality as a musician”. This music – Capriccio and Ariadne auf Naxos – is self-aware, mannered and clever. His suite Le Bourgeois gentilhomme was written to accompany Molière's play (and also Ariadne auf Naxos). It delights in pastiche and – ideally gentle – irony. It was the piece with which the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Kerem Hasan would open a short programme of vivacious music at St Luke's last Wednesday, available to watch online this Sunday.

Kerem Hasan © Marco Borggreve
Kerem Hasan
© Marco Borggreve

Reduced strings and pairs of woodwinds make it a work of intimate luxury; in Hasan's hands it is low-fat and high flavour, creaminess offset with piquancy. He has a superb technique, combining rhythmic exactitude with an elegant and expressive legato that lets this shapely music intuit itself. 

In Strauss, Hassan was playful but never sarcastic; the woodwinds shied away from full Till Eulenspiegel crudeness and the humour from mock-solemn trombone and swaggering trumpet had a warm-hearted, Commedia dell'arte feel. The Lully Minuet was a masterpiece of studied pastiche, eyebrows raised, but not grotesquely so. The divided lower LSO strings in a dreamy ‘Entry of Cléonte’ were understated and discreetly wistful, Hasan allowing the sound to bloom but never to become indulgently sentimental. 

Hannah Kendall's The Spark Catchers fizzes with the vibrancy of what, for many, feels like another era. Composed for the 2012 Olympics for BAME ensemble Chineke!, it is after a poem by Lemn Sissay that describes the women who worked in a match factory in Stratford. Kendall imagines the smoke from matches under the moonlight, pace Sissay's poem; offbeat bass lines channel Kendall's love of grime and garage, the urgent creative traditions of east London. 

This is inviting music, melodic and its rhythmic gestures are bold and intuitive. Harmonies are bright and appealing, with imaginative orchestration creating evocative surfaces: glistening clouds of strings are spiked with harp, and thickened with a blend of trumpet, cellos and oboe in the tender starlit interlude. The only thing this well-crafted performance wanted was, well, a little more excitement, particularly in the final bravura surging leap in the strings, which didn't quite flash with ferrous brilliance. 

Bartók's Dance Suite is a dynamically heterogeneous work too and also one that comes from, and is rooted in, an urban context. Written to commemorate the coming together of two distinct halves – the flat town of Pest and the hilly Buda – Bartók includes music from across central and eastern European musical traditions in this compact, if far-ranging, anthology of a work. Motifs mingle and chatter as if in one of the Hungarian capital's elegant 1920s art deco cafes. Sometimes we dip into the grungier cityscape of his contemporaneous ballet The Miraculous Mandarin.

Hasan and the LSO had a particular taste for the work's muddy lugubriousness, enjoying the rich murk of low brass, double basses striking their instruments with the wood of the bow, and grotty trombone slides; the violins drew feral growls sounds from passages played high on their G-strings. There were lots of comic touches too, from buffo tuba and bassoon at the opening. Lighter moments were handled with the same guileless charm as in the earlier Strauss. Hasan's conducting left room for moments of hushed magic: string harmonics like rushes of air; or the enigmatic solo viola of Edward Vandespar. In the final minutes the LSO really did cut loose – what a treat to be sat above the percussion! 

****1