Gianandrea Noseda is a fine Beethovenian, as his symphony cycle with the BBC Philharmonic a few years ago demonstrated. His direction of the Egmont Overture – which back in the day seemed to open every third concert one went to – was a stirring curtain-raiser, with incisive playing all round. The strings dug deep in their opening dotted rhythms, and the winds pleaded plaintively, before the main Allegro set out determinedly depicting the struggle against the Spanish oppressors in Flanders. Count Egmont’s vision of liberation triumphed in a blazing trumpet-led coda.

Daniil Trifonov © Dario Acosta
Daniil Trifonov
© Dario Acosta

Philip Cobb, the London Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Trumpet, took no part in that coda, as he was saving himself for his contribution to Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in C minor for piano, trumpet and string orchestra. As that slightly muddled title suggests, this is not quite a true double concerto for piano and trumpet, rather a piano concerto with obbligato trumpet, since the piano dominates most of the time. This is especially the case in the first movement, but with Daniil Trifonov at the keyboard, nobody was complaining. The music veers between the frivolous and the frantic, and Trifonov was alert to every twist and turn in this nose-thumbing music, revelling in its youthful excess. Trifonov is now all of twenty-eight – Shostakovich’s age when he wrote this concerto. The Lento is the most affecting music in the work. The poise of the strings’ opening phrases, Trifonov’s subtle touch and the elegiac feeling Cobb brought when the muted trumpet takes up the theme, bestowed a magical benediction. In the high speed car chase of the finale – Shostakovich drawing on his experience playing for silent films – we were treated to sparkling virtuosity all round, the tempo as fast as this music can go and still have every detail articulated.

The audience clamoured for an encore and the Joseph Turrin's arrangement of Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me was both unexpected and ideal. Cobb’s sensuous phrasing, golden tone and bluesy inflections in the reprise turned the dear old Barbican Hall into the coolest nightspot in the capital; they might as well have lowered the lights and served cocktails. No cocktails for Cobb though, who was at the first trumpet’s desk for the second half. What a brilliant and versatile musician he is – from Shostakovich to Berlioz, via the Great American Songbook.

Antoine Tamestit was the violist in Berlioz’s Harold in Italy that great travelogue, viola non-concerto, and four-movement symphony (the composer was never one to replicate a genre if he could invent a hybrid). Paganini commissioned it to show off his new Stradivarius viola and rejected the result as there was not enough showing-off in it. He later relented, but had a point. Berlioz’s work gives the viola a restrained poetic role as “a kind of melancholy dreamer in the manner of Byron’s Childe Harold”. But though we therefore had a third soloist to greet, he did not at first appear, for Tamestit took Berlioz’s “casting” quite literally, and inhabited the Harold role as he played. He came onto the platform only just as his solo entry was due, pausing to play next to the harp at stage right. Later he moved to a conventional soloist position by the conductor’s podium but as the music and dramatic scenario required, he moved around the stage, pausing at different orchestral sections for his next solo, and even reacted with surprise to some of what he heard, as if he would say, with Byron’s Harold: “I live not in myself, but I become portion of that around me”. It was an effective way of presenting the work and of embodying the relation of the viola to these orchestral scenes, in which as the composer noted it “would be involved like an actual person retaining the same character throughout”. Berlioz, whose music in most genres is never far from the drama, would have approved.

But only if the playing was as high class as it was here. Tamestit has a big sound and a beguilingly rich tone, evident from whichever point on the platform he played. His motto theme – “superimposed on the other orchestral voices… without interrupting their development”, said the composer – was warmly human at each appearance. The second movement, “March of the Pilgrims”, was devotional in its singing of the evening prayer, and in the middle section the viola’s sul ponticello decoration was most evocative. The rustic piping of the third movement serenade saw the LSO woodwind at their bucolic best, and the “Brigands’ Orgy” finale was true to its marked Allegro frenetico. Tamestit swiftly fled the platform for the later more orgiastic moments, returning only for his final flourish. The London Symphony Orchestra has had the highest pedigree in this most original of the great Romantic composers for decades, and so it proved once more.

*****