I’m a bit of a fan of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s programming skills. Like reading a mystery novel with a twist at every turn or finding a surprise sixpence in your Christmas pudding, there is usually a revelation or two in the LPO’s more intriguing programmes: a painter’s creative impulses, starry skies, open landscapes and good old-fashioned exuberance all featured in this one, although the pieces paired with Beethoven’s infectious Seventh Symphony weren’t necessarily the ones you might think of.

Van Gogh Blue
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

Julian Anderson’s imaginative Van Gogh Blue for chamber ensemble shows that lack of familiarity doesn’t really matter. Written in 2015, this five-movement piece impressively evokes Van Gogh’s colourful and impulsive images over a one-day cycle, from the dawn’s rising sun to the stars at night. John Storgårds, a keen purveyor of contemporary fare, let the music breathe through the players. With blue light flooding the hall, Anderson’s crystalline textures fused with suspended chords, interjected with disturbed mutterings and melancholy but unsettled harmonies. The players sustained tension, with angry outbursts, disjointed fragments overlapping between instruments and, particularly in the fifth movement, a sardonic edge with icy dissonances. This was an absorbing piece, played with real commitment and feeling.

London Philharmonic Orchestra play Van Gogh Blue
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

Going back a hundred years or so, Carl Nielsen posed a challenge in his Violin Concerto: how to show off the instrument’s dazzling capabilities without being superficial. This rather expansive concerto tried to solve this dilemma with rich melodic content and harmonic invention, yet still with heaps of virtuosity, but against a slightly disparate architecture. Simone Lamsma gave a full-blooded and wholesome reading. The attention-grabbing opening immediately revealed Lamsma’s robust style, with a super-sweet upper register coming to the fore at key moments, while her florid melodic lines coursed through the piece, weaving though Nielsen’s intriguing harmonies and combining with clever intricacy in interplay with the orchestra. Storgårds struck a fine balance between soloist and orchestra, the LPO providing sensitive support, firm but not overpowering, with gritty and lithe strings and wonderfully precise and pointed woodwinds and brass. Lamsma revelled in the song-like quality of the slower passages, while showing real attack and dynamism in the faster sections.

Simone Lamsma
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

Going back another hundred years did nothing to slow down the adrenaline. Storgårds provided a heart-thumping performance of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7, his physical style on the podium extending into the orchestra as they, too, bent and swayed with the music. But it’s hard not to with this piece. The warmth and nobility of the introduction moved unapologetically into a joyous expression of exuberance, strings merrily but forcefully digging in while winds and brass enjoyed their freedom, Juliette Bausor’s flute in the first subject a particular highlight. Storgårds provided intensity and momentum in the Allegretto, while the Scherzo was skittish and bouncy, the Trio majestic, and energy levels turned right up to the max in the fiery and relentless Finale. We’re hearing a lot of this symphony these days, but this exhilarating performance was right up there.

This performance was reviewed from the Marquee TV video stream