When Karina Canellakis had to cancel because of Covid quarantine restrictions, Sir Mark Elder stepped in and the London Philharmonic Orchestra didn't miss a beat.

Sir Mark Elder conducts the LPO © London Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Mark Elder conducts the LPO
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

Anna Clyne's Prince of Clouds, inspired by Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, was Bachian in its industrious seriosity which set off very effectively the moments of celestial beauty lit theatrically by a bank of spotlights. The tunes and textures were Bachian intricate but Clyne worked out the problems with such ingenious solutions and along the way, Britten-ish outbursts and other colorful touches, that many listeners will want to check out Clyne's other work. The playing by the two soloists, the LPO's leader Pieter Schoeman and principal second violinist Tania Mazzetti, was so deeply involved in keeping the music going, as if in addition to the purely musical aspects they were intent on not losing their place, that they seemed less like soloists than extensions of Clyne's writing for massed strings. Elder made it sound like the music played itself according to an internal clock but it cannot have been easy to step in at the last moment and have it sound that way. 

Pieter Schoeman © London Philharmonic Orchestra
Pieter Schoeman
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

If at times the LPO's strings in the gushier moments of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme came perilously close to overdoing the whipped cream, the pure, focused quality of the winds and brass suggested the surreal Technicolor clarity of The Archers classics, while in the overture Elder had them playing with the urgency and anticipation a curtain-opener is supposed to have. From there on the LPO took over, led by Schoeman whose heavy-duty Straussian heroics commanded the landscape throughout the entire piece with his stunning virtuosity and his lovely sense of arcs and rounding, at every moment in the exhausting part totally on top of his game – and this after 15 minutes of Clyne! 

Sir Mark Elder © London Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Mark Elder
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

He was not alone. The trombone was restrained but golden, and the trumpet nailed the timing of his descending scale, followed by the pianist with her own subtler take, all enlivened by Elder's teasing ways with transitions and pace. The orchestra served up a particularly sumptuous meal for The Dinner, ceremonial like a baronial castle, and studded with endless stocks of glorious solos in the broadcast's audiophile sound on both headphones and speakers that allowed everything to come through just as if you were reading the score. The gentle embrace of the solo cellist by the whole orchestra as she came to the end of her extended solo, played with unusual eloquence and sad overtones, was one of the performance's grand moments. As the music rollicked along towards the end, it was clear that trusting your players always makes the conductor look good.

Cast and crew took full measure of Beethoven's Eighth Symphony, not usually considered a concert closer, and made it work. They rolled out both the first and last movements as sweeping symphonic movements with lots of velvet power in their gloves – none of that short and snappish HIP stuff. Mälzel's movement was less like a metronome joke; instead, it had the floating lightness of a Tchaikovsky ballet. In the Tempo di Menuetto, the brass connected with splendid heraldry to a Trio in which the horns' response was suave and sweet, the clarinet was intoxicatingly mellifluous, and the cellos played their arpeggios with unusual seductive intentions.

This performance was reviewed from the Marquee TV video stream