Life has been pretty topsy-turvy for nigh on eight months now, but the London Symphony Orchestra’s calendar is seriously wonky. Their latest concert recording began with Mendelssohn in midsummer madness mode, then transported us back to spring for vernal offerings from Lili Boulanger and Robert Schumann. With the autumn leaves whistling outside LSO St Luke’s, it was a welcome burst of sunshine, a musical shot of Vitamin D.

Kevin John Edusei © Marco Borggreve
Kevin John Edusei
© Marco Borggreve

It’s not just calendars that are in disarray. Travel plans often go awry these days too. If you’re a conductor based in Britain, the best advice would be to stay put and the gigs will surely come your way. Antonio Pappano is the latest maestro to have his scheduled trashed by quarantine restrictions, causing a late substitution. Kevin John Edusei, who I saw at the helm of Chineke! last week, stepped in here to make his LSO debut. 

Chief conductor of the Munich Symphony Orchestra since 2014, Edusei cuts a dashing figure on the podium. His wristy baton technique is big and fluid and he cues meticulously. For much of the suite from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though, it was his beaming smile that caught the eye, like a teenager who’s just been given the keys and invited to test drive a Ferrari. Edusei resisted the temptation to pummel the accelerator though, allowing clean woodwind articulation in the Scherzo, led by Gareth Davies’ puckish flute. The dark undertones of the Intermezzo were mined, although the arrival of the Rustics was very slow, and a lot of emotion was wrung from the Nocturne. Social distancing brings its challenges in terms of maintaining ensemble and the overture brought the occasional scramble, but brass entries – from up in the balcony – in the Wedding March were crisp and had a real sense of occasion. 

Lili Boulanger’s evocation of a spring morning tingled with dewy freshness. A miniature tone poem of Debussian airiness, D'un matin de printemps was originally composed for violin and piano in 1917, orchestrated the following year, shortly before her death from Crohn’s Disease at the tragically young age of 24. Edusai kept this delightful Scherzo on the move, drawing out fiesta-like exuberance (including castanets), while allowing front desk strings space to tease out their interplay in the central section.  

Where Boulanger’s spring shimmers into life, Robert Schumann’s is announced with a brass fanfare and a majestic flourish. From this rather grand opening statement, his First Symphony soon breaks into an impetuous Allegro, Edusei emphasising the molto vivace in a reading full of vim and vigour. Social distancing meant paring back string numbers to just 38, but then the LSO is used to playing Schumann – often standing up – under John Eliot Gardiner, so they were already honed for the slimline, lithe approach. The trio of trombones brought nobility to the end of the Larghetto and the Scherzo had an emphatic punch. The sudden gear changes in the Finale didn’t always convince, but there was little doubting the symphony’s impulsive feel, the excitement of spring coursing through a young man’s veins. After news of further lockdowns across Europe arrived, it was good to be transported, however briefly, to a different world. 


This concert is broadcast on Stage Access in the US, Canada & UK only on 29th October

****1