“It’s important to go back to our origins,” says Gianandrea Noseda, in introducing his London Symphony Orchestra season. Taking his words at face value, there is an unmistakable scent of Italy in Noseda’s conducting. Expressively immediate and with unreserved passion, Noseda’s personality lies also in his ability to bring an orchestra together into a singular force, obliging the audience to a show of contrasts and forward thrust.

Gianandrea Noseda
© Steve Sherman

Yet the nurturing of orchestral sonority per se is only part of the story. In Noseda’s ongoing cycle of Shostakovich’s symphonies with the LSO at the Barbican, the Italian conductor’s versatility was tested as he dipped his feet into a diverse range of repertoire and styles along the way. Thus as Noseda dug into Kodály’s Dances of Galánta in his characteristically string-heavy style, not only the rustic and rhythmic qualities, but also elements of melancholy (according to Bartók, Kodály’s music “strives for inner contemplation”) and fun were immaculately shaped. While the woodwinds too were songful and present, Andrew Marriner’s poignant clarinet was memorable, evoking something of an autumnal sunset in this early November’s approach to winter.

Noseda’s advocacy of Sir James MacMillan is as important as his Shostakovich cycle. While MacMillan’s orchestral version of All the Hills and Vales Along will have its world premiere under Noseda on Sunday, this evening presented a UK premiere of his Trombone Concerto. Much like the Kodály, the concerto alternates between serenity and activity, albeit in a musical syntax that is distinctively contemporary. Peter Moore’s mellow trombone was admirably played especially in the display of technical prowess. If anything, the novelty of trombone concerto itself was a joy to the eyes and ears.

Still, spirits of occasion and partnership don’t necessitate absolute success beyond their promises, and there were moments where the capricious nature of the score did not guarantee a sense of cohesion. Problematic in particular was how the siren in the climax was discomforting due to its violently loud shrill. And while the trombone ‘conversation’ between soloist and trombonists at the back was original as Moore actually faced the instrumentalists, it felt like a theatrical stunt.

Things improved. Noseda has previously described Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony as “noble, trivial, vulgar, tender, grotesque”, it being a work that depicted the composer’s socio-political environment. Yet in place of the noble, trivial, and especially the tender, was a heavy predilection of desperation. The symphony started in full blossom of metallic propulsion, and the manic fugue in the development of the Allegretto poco moderato evoked a spree of fear much more than the scientific nobility the fugue often represents.

There was little doubt of Noseda’s preparation of the piece, as each note was throbbingly felt, and tuttis were played with immense volume. There were touches of flair, too, in the portamento of the strings in the second theme of the Moderato con moto, for example. Noseda’s maximalist conception had its costs, however. By the conclusion of the eerie coda, I was relieved less due to catharsis than to emancipation from an intensity up so close. On second thoughts, this feeling of belittling fervour may haven been what Noseda and Shostakovich precisely intended to portray in the mammoth work.