This was a clever and enjoyable concert built around anniversaries – Panufnik at 100 and Richard Strauss at the grand old age of 150. Despite the two composers being miles apart in approach and style the structures of their two pieces, a single movement building to central climax, were revealed as being similar.

The Symphony no. 10 by Andrzej Panufnik that opened the evening is on a small scale, but has lofty and serious ambitions. Commissioned in 1988 by Georg Solti for the 100th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, it is a concise 17 minute work built around a series of three note themes. After the initial brass fanfares, the music ruminates and develops the micro-thematic material to the point where tension is built by creating a sense that something needs to happen. The Presto section which delivers this moment of action is pithy and telling. The short quiet string passage that follows is touching and the delicate addition of harp and celesta rounds off the piece in an unexpectedly moving way. A refined performance by the LSO and Antonio Pappano, with the string section particularly pure in sound, presented the work at its best. However I wasn’t persuaded to change my view that Panufnik remains a peripheral figure whose music promises more than it delivers.

Piotr Anderszewski © MG de Saint Venant | Virgin Classics
Piotr Anderszewski
© MG de Saint Venant | Virgin Classics

Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor is a work that has grown on me over the years. Gone are the days when I felt it lacked the bite of Beethoven or the grandness of Brahms, I can now appreciate that the originality and very personal charm of the work make it one of the most treasurable concertos of the 19th century. In this characterful performance by Piotr Anderszewski one was particularly aware of how closely integrated the piano part is with the orchestra. The close collaboration between Anderszewski and Pappano gave the impression, as surely it should in this concerto, that the soloist and orchestra are equal partners, with the soloist being allowed to shine at a few key points. Anderszewski was fabulously free in the first movement with melting pianissimos nestled between bold passagework. The central Intermezzo was all character and charm without a hint of the homely or sentimental and in the Finale he had all the brilliance necessary at his fingertips. A laconic performance of Bartók's Three Hungarian Folksongs as the encore to rounded off the first half of the evening with a wry smile.

The outrageous over-the-top mock histrionics of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben was given the Rolls Royce treatment by Pappano and the LSO. Perhaps the greatest of the Strauss tone poems and certainly my favourite, its massive structure was brilliantly held together in this performance. Again the LSO strings excelled, this time with a lush full sound, as did the woodwind in their role as 'the critics', incisive and shrill as they should be. The long solo violin passage that depicts ‘The Beloved’ was comically brought off by the leader, Roman Simovic, who managed to depict the fiery nature of the character (a portrait Strauss’s wife) with a warmth and affection that was truly touching. The battle scene was very gutsy and the gradual wind down from it was perfectly paced by Pappano. Only at the end were the doubts and detractors banished in the arms of ‘The Beloved’, and in this performance, without any hint of longeurs.