Am I the first person to hear the makings of a James Bond theme at the start of Cassazione by Sibelius? Hm… better Google that before I commit… Ah no, everyone else thinks so too. However, after this improbable piece of pre-credits action the composer’s Op.6 settles into an eight-minute collage of characteristic motifs, mostly brief, all insistent, as woodwind duos over steady string pedal chords build towards the snake-charmer strains of a solo oboe. The Cassation is a slight piece but one whose case was vividly argued in the London Symphony Orchestra’s streamed concert from LSO St Luke’s.

Stephanie Childress © LSO | Mark Allan
Stephanie Childress
© LSO | Mark Allan

Travel restrictions prevented both the concert’s marquee names from appearing, but their stand-ins stamped their personalities on an immensely attractive (and unchanged) programme. Thus it was the young prodigy Stephanie Childress, not Susanna Mälkki, who put the LSO through its paces in the Sibelius pieces that bookended a concise yet richly packed concert. Childress’ elegant self-possession on the podium was reflected in interpretations that bore the stamp of a symphonic mind and consistently favoured musical honesty over sonic effect. En Saga, the concert’s substantial opener, sounded homogeneous to a fault – notwithstanding the scattered sea of musicians who filled the floor and spread to the balconies like an exploded diagram – for the conductor’s reading was all about texture rather than big moments. The story she told was low-key but compelling, and not even the attack dogs of the LSO brass slipped the leash at climactic moments. In the rapid finale I was reminded of Isobel Baillie’s exhortation to singers that they should “never sing louder than lovely”; well, a bit louder, maybe?

The LSO horn section © LSO | Mark Allan
The LSO horn section
© LSO | Mark Allan

Childress’ close attention to music’s shifting moods and her view of the orchestra as a single instrument should make her an ideal interpreter of the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, a composer whose compositions are built from slow textural transfigurations, and so it proved in her rapt account of Lumière et Pesanteur, a six-minute traversal of the Stations of the Cross whose instrumental trills are as gentle as a slight vibrato and where long, meditative phrases are spiked by calm interjections from a solo harp and piccolo.

Stephanie Childress, Alina Ibragimova and the LSO © LSO | Mark Allan
Stephanie Childress, Alina Ibragimova and the LSO
© LSO | Mark Allan

The concert’s second no-show was Christian Tetzlaff, laid low by essential surgery, but his withdrawal opened a felicitous and moving opportunity for the violinist Alina Ibragimova to join the orchestra on the very day her late father, the LSO’s former principal double bassist Rinat Ibragimov who died two months ago, would have turned 60. His daughter did him proud with a radiant account of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, her instrument especially smooth and resonant in its low registers. There was steel as well as satin in Ibragimova’s account of the Andante, while in the finale a conversational opening soon gave way to a bright display of indoor fireworks that was especially appropriate for 5th November. Fire crackers? Not really. More the hand-held variety – at least until the coda, at which point sparks flew.


This performance was reviewed from the Medici video stream

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