You’ve got to hand it to the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It has set out to do something distinctive in its streaming presentation – widescreen, dramatic lighting, unusual camera angles, quick cuts between shots – and it has paid off handsomely, ably demonstrated in this terrific performance under dynamic Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola. It’s less like being at a concert and more of a cinematic experience. Forget the playing (for the moment); in terms of production values, the LPO is head and shoulders ahead of any other UK orchestra right now.

Enrique Mazzola
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

We open with a few edgy shots of the orchestra tuning up in the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Mazzola stepping into the footlights, eyes gazing heavenward behind his red-rimmed spectacles. Nick Gray’s lighting is striking – chilly blues for Missy Mazzoli’s ice-breaker These Worlds In Us and much of Sibelius’ First Symphony, angry red for Finlandia. The intensity of the lighting and the canny camera angles mean that you’re rarely aware of miles of cabling on the stage. The sound, as streamed via bluetooth to my hifi set-up, is excellent, with plenty of weight, but lots of detail. This feels like a premium product.

And under Mazzola, these were premium performances. Since hearing the UK premiere of her double bass concerto Dark with Excessive Bright, I’ve been much enamoured of Missy Mazzoli’s sound world. These Worlds In Us is a nine-minute, immediately attractive work, dedicated to the composer’s father, a soldier in the Vietnam War. The music is linked to memories, often painfully reflected in the fragile outer sections where string glissandos swoop and slide and melodicas wheeze, but the militaristic centre is bracing and upbeat, Mazzola bopping around on the podium.

Enrique Mazzola conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

I don’t know whether the red lighting affected the LPO’s performance of Finlandia, or whether it was chosen because of their interpretation, but I’ve rarely heard the opening sound angrier. The brass snarled amidst the molten lava, spitting their protests in defiance – definite feelings of impending doom. The fierce eruption led to a thrilling account of Sibelius’ bracing main tune, Mazzola driving the orchestra on with beaming smiles.

London Philharmonic Orchestra brass
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

We could have done with a slightly longer pause to gather our breath before the shift back to icy blue for the First Symphony. Indeed we could have stayed under the red lighting as, after Benjamin Mellefont’s ripe, full-bodied clarinet introduction this was as volcanic a reading as Finlandia. Mazzola’s conducting was impassioned, lending the first movement a sense of energy and restlessness, surges in dynamics exaggerated. String pizzicatos landed with stinging precision. Sibelius’ Scherzo bounced around excitedly while the Finale teemed with drama until Mazzola applied the brakes for big cello melody, where there were hints of Tchaikovsky, whose influence is often cited on this early work.

The applause and foot-stamping at the end indicates the LPO clearly loves playing for Mazzola (last week’s stream was equally engaging). Let’s hope he is invited back often.


This performance was reviewed from the video stream on Marquee TV

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