The final concert of the “After Romanticism” series closed with a generous programme that once again demonstrated the special rapport François-Xavier Roth already has with the London Symphony Orchestra. If, at first glance, the three featured composers appear to have little in common, their stylistic differences melted away with the vivid colouring and attention to detail that a batonless and elegantly dressed Roth drew from his players.

Antoine Mignot © Julien Mignot
Antoine Mignot
© Julien Mignot

These qualities were most readily apparent in Debussy Prélude a l’après midi d’un faune set in motion by Gareth Davies’ freshly-minted flute solo, from which unfolded an account of poise, suppleness and understated ardour. Everything here gelled with clean-sounding antiphonal violins and bell-like clarity from the two antique cymbals in the closing pages. The silence before the applause at the end indicated just how seductive this performance was.

There followed Bartók’s Viola Concerto; a work left unfinished on the composer’s death in 1945 and subsequently completed with revisions which have partially contributed to its unjust neglect. After this totally persuasive performance the concerto ought to gain a new lease of life. The violist Antoine Tamestit possesses a flawless technique and combines effortless musicality with an easy communicative power. He has too a sumptuously rich tone which gains an agreeable sweetness at the top end and heard to pleasing effect in the first movement.

The concerto’s stylistic variety, with an English-sounding Lento (redolent of Vaughan Williams’ pastoral idiom) and peasant dance finale (with echoes of Bartók’s own Divertimento and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta) certainly makes attractive listening. To these Tamestit emphasised both the work’s lyrical and earthy qualities. It’s an imaginatively scored work too, and the opening duet for solo viola and timpani caught the ear, as did muted trumpets and viola towards the end of the first movement. Throughout the LSO were marvellously supportive, whether in their hushed string writing or brass fanfares. For an encore, Tamestit formed a brief alliance with orchestral leader Roman Simovic in one of Bartók’s 44 duos for two violins – a sort of musical après ski!

At 65 minutes, Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4 in E flat “Romantic” took the lion’s share of the evening, in a performance that was impressive if not always compelling. Things began superbly with a smoothly-rendered horn solo, thanks to Timothy Jones. However, all too soon the brass section was unmistakable, and with a dynamic level this high the impact of the first movement felt marginally compromised – its tempo too might have been slighter broader. That said, there was some ravishing playing from the strings with elegance and polish second to none.

The Andante was marked by warmth and poise, a spacious affair that at times felt dangerously close to ponderous, but here alleviated by the sheer beauty of sound, and violas making the most of their stand out role. A highly-charged Scherzo (exciting rather than rhythmically taut) emphasised the reverie of the Trio. But it was the finale, where moods turn on a sixpence, which seemed to be the most successful movement. Calm reflection or ferocious outbursts (with ear-splitting trumpets) were moulded into a coherent whole by an unerring and a demonstrably excited Roth whose feet left the podium on more than one occasion. With this much energy it looks to be an exciting time ahead for the LSO when Roth joins them as principal guest conductor.