For many, January is among the gloomiest times of the year, the cold evenings spinning inexorably and the cheer of Christmas a disappearing memory. The London Symphony Orchestra’s decision to programme Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor with top soloist Janine Jansen followed by Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony must surely be deemed nothing less than an act of cultural philanthropy, the aural equivalent of champagne and caviar.

Janine Jansen
© LSO | Mark Allan

Gianandrea Noseda is always a welcome figure in London and the strength of his relationship with the LSO is palpable; their playing seemed charged by his presence and energised by his dynamism on the podium. Before jumping into the meat of the concert, we were given an obligatory appetiser in the form of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture; performed with gusto and flair, it was an excellent warm up, but in many respects it did not lend a huge amount to the evening and the concert would not have dramatically suffered from its omission, though the plush quality of the string section, particularly the delicacy of the cello playing, was a harbinger of things to come.

Gianandrea Noseda conducts the London Symphony Orchestra
© LSO | Mark Allan

Increasingly one tends to notice a tendency amongst audiences to fidget, so it was a real pleasure to hear concentrated silence as Janine Jansen opened the Sibelius. We were given collegiate virtuosity: her playing outstanding, but in complete balance and harmony with Noseda’s forces. The purity of tone in the first movement, the sense of searching, a wavering between pathways, was breathtaking and the dispatch of that glorious little cadenza early on was vividly done. Jansen’s playing had the intimacy of a chamber recital, which somehow worked with the lush, bold sound that Noseda drew from the LSO; top marks to the woodwind whose playing was packed with nuance, notably the bassoons in the first movement. It was, however, Jansen’s evening and as she moved from the most refined sound – the thinnest of silver threads – at the end of second movement into a charged third, the tone changed, the wavering evolving into decisive force. A complete success for Jansen then, as was her Bach encore.

Gianandrea Noseda
© LSO | Mark Allan

If the first half of the concert belonged to her, the second was utterly Noseda’s who led a most thrilling reading of Prokofiev’s Symphony no. 6 in E flat minor. It’s not unheard in London, but Prokofiev never seems to have quite the same draw as Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich. Noseda’s ongoing Prokofiev cycle is therefore most welcome. His pacing was spot on, appealingly languid in the second movement while the third movement was taken with a brisk nonchalance that belied the complexity of the woodwind playing. 

It was a full-throttled, exciting interpretation, the architecture not lost in Noseda’s flair for bold climaxes: balance was maintained throughout, the woodwind always audible through some ferocious brass. Playing was universally excellent, particularly in the brass where James Fountain’s vibrant trumpeting was a delight, while the cellos ached with foreboding in the second movement. The audience departed with a palpable sense of satisfaction, January blues dispelled.