Several threads bound together tonight’s London Symphony Orchestra programme with Gianandrea Noseda at the helm. The Classical period linked Mozart with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, and Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 9 in E flat major – Shostakovich at his “most classical”, according to Noseda. Aside from obvious Russian connections, Mussorgsky’s folk-influenced Prelude to Khovanshchina also links in with the LSO’s season theme of “roots and origins”. Thematic programming aside, this was an imaginatively varied offering, complementing Shostakovich’s second shortest symphony well.

Gianandrea Noseda
© Mark Allan

Noseda and the LSO opened with an energetically precise rendition of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. The opening burst forth, with a bright string sound and steady tempo. Noseda was at his most expressive in the Larghetto, with glassy violins and chattering bassoons leading to a gently throbbing finish. The brief Gavotte was stately and straight-faced, and the Finale raced off at a lively gallop. Noseda and the LSO achieved a good balance here between accentuating the wit and edge, whilst maintaining “classical” precision and simplicity, avoiding simplistic pastiche.

Christian Tetzlaff’s Mozart was warm and expressive, performing with a lively bounce in his step. Noseda managed the dynamic balance well mostly, although in the tuttis the oboes struggled to compete with the full string forces. Tetzlaff’s sound was fresh and light, with edgy pacing, although occasionally he was pushed the tempo forward, with rather sudden rhythmic starts. The Adagio had a gentle bounce, nothing too slow, and again, Tetzlaff produced a sweet tone, openly expressive, with plenty of dynamic phrasing. The finale was full of dancing energy and folksy flashes, although here too the tempo rocked once or twice. Tetzlaff followed with a brief encore of Bach’s Gigue from the Partita no. 3, BWV1006, all the more brief given the pace at which he took it – impressively virtuosic, but sacrificing clarity of detail, although he delivered a jauntily playful finish.

Christian Tetzlaff, Gianandrea Noseda and the London Symphony Orchestra
© Mark Allan

Mussorgsky’s opera Khovanshchina was left incomplete; Rimsky-Korsakov went on to orchestrate the music and plug gaps in his own style. Shostakovich also prepared an orchestration, restoring some of Mussorgksy’s music that Rimsky-Korsakov had jettisoned, and Stravinsky and Ravel also made their own arrangement for Diaghilev. However, the brief but atmospheric Prelude performed tonight is pretty consistent.

Violas begin with a dawn-breaking melody, taken over by the flutes, over shimmering strings, and the atmosphere builds to a sudden dramatic cello intervention, moving into a Russian folk-like section, which soon subsides. The clarinet briefly emerges from the shimmering strings, before the horn tolls and the music dies to nothing. Noseda shaped the dynamics and brought out the detail of this brief but striking miniature.

The LSO and Noseda finished with a thrilling reading of Shostakovich’s satirically subversive Ninth Symphony. The first movement had playful bite, with a pervading sense of ambiguity giving way to growing, swirling menace. Noseda conducted with an ungainly but wholly expressive energy. The second movement’s woodwind solos were faultless, and the passages of chamber woodwind writing here had a suitably mournful, bare quality. The Presto was frenzied and thrilling, before the energy leeched away and the brass sledgehammers heralded the emotional heart of the piece. Bassoonist Daniel Jemison delivered the first extended plaintive solo, full of sadness, and then managed to achieve even greater passion and desperation in the second solo passage, before making a total about turn into the cheeky dance that began the Finale. Noseda notched up the tension, driving on to a scream before the grotesque march, and then the final sudden switch into the breathless conclusion.