Youth was very much at the helm of this London Philharmonic Orchestra concert, in which the conductor was still in his early thirties and the soloist only a few years older, both combined ages coming no way near the 91 years of the originally advertised pianist, Menahem Pressler, who had been advised by his doctors to rest.

Robin Ticciati © Marco Borggreve
Robin Ticciati
© Marco Borggreve

When Beethoven premiered his own G major concerto in 1808, it was described by one critic as being full of “monstrous difficulties, which he played astonishingly well at the fastest possible tempos”. Everything is relative, as they say. That critic could in no way have foreseen the development of the barnstorming warhorses of the later century or indeed the way in which this concerto has become the most reflective and poetic of the composer’s canon. It is a work which from the piano’s opening statement speaks to us in a most intimate and confiding way. In the hands of Javier Perianes and his wonderfully pellucid tone these opening bars immediately set the mood for what followed. Throughout the first movement, there was a fine awareness of its innate classical dimensions, with Robin Ticciati using the scaled-down string complement and blended wind to create a true partnership of equals in which no individual voice was allowed to dominate the dialogue.

In the 72 bars of music which form the slow movement, some see a dramatic struggle for supremacy between orchestra and soloist: the strings throw down the gauntlet in a bold initial statement. It was Liszt who compared this brief andante to Orpheus taming the power of the wild beasts with the soothing power of his lyre. But when Perianes responded, it was almost from another world, set apart from the rough winds of mortal existence, with an immensely satisfying sense of inner repose, the gradations of dynamics here and elsewhere beautifully controlled, his voice shaded at times to a mere whisper before the dying close in grave E minor. And then in the fleet-footed finale the mood changed and Ticciati delivered an accompaniment of panache and vigour to match his soloist’s unleashed energy. Perianes offered a single encore, magically designed to mirror the moments of poetic inwardness in the concerto, Chopin’s Mazurka no. 13 in A minor, Op.17 no. 4.

In many respects Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony is as much a programmatic work as Beethoven’s “Pastoral”. It was the only one of his symphonies to which he gave a title (leaving aside the slightly quaint “Nullte” and “Doppelte Nullte”) and for which he provided images in words of what he was trying to create. Thus, the opening represents dawn and the sounds of woodland life slowly limbering up. In an ideal performance, there should be a gentle coaxing of the individual strands of the texture, the way a chrysalis gradually unfurls. Unfortunately, although David Pyatt’s opening horn solo was perfectly poised, it was too loud, creating little in the way of atmosphere and mysterious anticipation.

This slight miscalculation was all the more surprising because Ticciati has already established his Brucknerian credentials with a fine recording of the F Minor Mass with Bavarian forces. There was much to admire in his performance of Bruckner’s “Romantic” Symphony – though arguably Bruckner could also have chosen “Rustic” or indeed “Pastoral” as suitable epithets, such are the prevailing sounds of nature. Using the Nowak edition of 1878/80 (but without the cymbal crash at the start of the finale) Ticciati impressed in many of the minor details, carefully and sensitively shaping those typical phrases that often consist of little more than wisps of melody as well as the apparent hesitations in the musical argument. He ensured a proper grounding in the bass line – indeed, the lower strings of the LPO were consistently warm in tone and elegant in phrasing – and gave appropriate attention to the inner voices. Above all, Ticciati never harried or hurried Bruckner along in an attempt to make his music sound more “modern” and “relevant”. However, young conductors often fall into the trap of smiling too encouragingly at the brass... as Richard Strauss warned them not to do. In the over-bright acoustic of the Festival Hall, the brass chorales can easily take on an unnecessarily aggressive edge, submerging the string textures. Bruckner’s sound-world is essentially organic, in which the warp and weft of the texture is only crowned, but not cowed, by triumphant blazes from the brass. A restraining hand by Ticciati would at times have made for a more idiomatic reading, though there is no gainsaying the thrilling sounds he conjured up in the scherzo, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The Lӓndler provided a strong contrast at a relaxed tempo, with moments of exquisite wistfulness, and much of the finale unfolded with an inexorable power.