It’s just as well composers are thick-skinned. Imagine working your fingers to the bone on your new symphonic poem, only to find that its premiere receives “audible opposition”. Then you overhaul it a couple of times, add some helpful descriptions to explain it better, and then find that, by its third performance, it actually gets “furious opposition”. If it was me, I’d have given up by then. But persistence pays off, and by the time Gustav Mahler got to the fourth version of what eventually became known as his Symphony no. 1 in D major, the reception changed to “lively approval”. Phew! Thank goodness for dogged determination.

Hannu Lintu
© Heikki Tuuli

But before getting to this labour of love, Hannu Lintu and the London Philharmonic Orchestra had other works of sweep and power to present. Carl Nielsen’s Helios Overture, a ridiculously underperformed work, was inspired during the composer’s stay in Greece, depicting the sun rising and setting over the Aegean Sea. From the gentle warmth of the Rheingold-like opening to the joyous grandeur of the solar vista in all its glory, full of golden splendour, Lintu, dynamic and sharp on the podium, cultured fine control and well-judged balance across the sections of the orchestra, particularly through the sustained crescendos. There were one or two timing and intonation issues, but these were minor and didn’t mar the overall impact and sense of wonder in this performance.

Viola player-turned-composer, Brett Dean, constructed his exciting and enterprising Viola Concerto around his “own relationship with this curiously beautiful, somewhat enigmatic instrument” and his thoughts upon “the workings of music itself”. The piece was full of invention, rich in content and varied sonorities, with both Lawrence Power, an accomplished viola player who is as much at home in Berio as he is in Schubert, and the LPO under Lintu quite at home expressing Dean’s intriguing canvas. The fidgety murmurings and spiky textures of the brief opening movement (Fragment) quickly turned into nervous energy in the second (Pursuit), with Power exploring the full extent of the viola’s capabilities with virtuosic flair. The final movement (Veiled and Mysterious) had Power’s elegiac viola winding through the orchestra’s chilling layers of icy glass to close a quite captivating experience.

Lawrence Power
© Jack Liebeck

Mahler’s journey from stillness through tragedy to triumph had the LPO in resplendent form. This performance of his First Symphony was characterised by Lintu’s impressive sense of pace and shape, the orchestra brandishing its rapturous strings, chattering woodwinds, complete with interjecting high clarinets (a favourite of Mahler’s), and smooth brass. It was beautifully played, although some parts felt a little too placed and certain passages were almost too leisurely, but it was all very finely controlled. The second movement was much more like it, gutsy and raw and with a real Ländler feel. Lintu contrasted the darkness and irony of the funeral march and Klezmer-style music with the beauty and calm of Die zwei blauen Augen, with the LPO relishing the fire and fury of the fourth movement transforming into transcendental joy.