This combination of polar opposite works looked odd on paper, but made for an inspiring and entertaining evening with the London Symphony Orchestra. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is one of the composer's most serene and life affirming works, while Prokofiev’s Third Symphony is one of his most brutal.

Lisa Batiashvili
© LSO | Mark Allan

The Beethoven concerto represents both the summit of the Classical and the benchmark for the many Romantic concertos that followed it. When presenting the work, performers need to hold both these elements in balance. Supported by clean-cut playing from the LSO with an alert Gianandrea Noseda at the helm, Lisa Batiashvili achieved this balance to near perfection. From her entrance, she held onto the long lyrical lines with poise, shaping them effortlessly and naturally, using subtle vibrato to create a delicate and tasteful range of colours. Nothing was out of place nor exaggerated, but neither did it ever sink into routine. She held her concentration across the expanse of the long first movement, with every gesture and effect seeming to have a purpose. Only in the choice of a cadenza by Alfred Schnittke did some of this seamless momentum lose focus. No criticism could be placed on Batiashhvili’s virtuosic performance, but the cadenza proved to be too long and too eccentric, adding nothing to the structure as a whole.

In the Larghetto we were back to business as usual. The excellence of the playing from all concerned was breathtaking, with Batiashvili reaching new heights of communicativeness. The Rondo finale was played at an equally high level; taken at a fast tempo, its energy and largely carefree atmosphere was projected almost with glee.

Gianandrea Noseda conducts the London Symphony Orchestra
© LSO | Mark Allan

Prokofiev composed his Symphony no. 3 in C minor in the late 1920s, salvaging material from his outrageous opera The Fiery Angel, written earlier in the decade, which he rightly assumed would never see its way onto the stage during his lifetime. He remained proud of the score and didn’t want the best of it to be lost to censorship. Pulling together the key passages, he created a coherent and exciting symphony, which should rank alongside his popular Fifth and the critically acclaimed Sixth.

From the off, it felt as if Noseda and the LSO were letting rip after their controlled restraint in the Beethoven. Prokofiev's heavy orchestration has an excess of doubling, which can sound clogged and muddy, but came across here in all its Technicolor brilliance. Careful balancing of the orchestration enabled the polyphonic presentation of the themes to come across with clarity. The thematic material is inspired, but can sound hectoring and brass heavy, however, here each block of ideas was sharply characterised.

Highlights of the performance were the big climax at the end of first movement, the echoes of quiet music from The Rite of Spring at the centre of the Andante, the 13-part division of the string lines used to create the effect of flames in the Scherzo and the very end of symphony, with its massively unresolved and negative climax. A work then, that despite devilish its origins and dark ending, proved to be hugely engaging and thrilling in this excellent performance.