As we gathered in Portsmouth’s Guildhall awaiting the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance, there was a sophisticated air that filled the hall, and let us all know that the evening was going to be very different to many that the venue had seen before.
Being familiar with the orchestral format, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the LSO had altered this, and opted to perform as a standing orchestra for the Mendelssohn pieces which they had chosen for the evening. Given that their first piece, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, also known as the ‘Italian’ Symphony, lasts for about half an hour, I was intrigued to see how they would fare. The orchestra managed this with the poise and grace that you would expect from one of the world’s leading orchestras.
Conducted by the legendary Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the orchestra captivated their audience with their dynamic precision and emotive playing, frequently sending chills down my spine as the pieces echoed through the Guildhall. This was particularly noticeable in the Adagio movement of the ‘Scottish’ Symphony, which was hauntingly beautiful.
Gardiner was at his finest during the performances, varying between graceful and enigmatic conducting as each piece demanded. There were points during Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony where it seemed impossible that the orchestra could be following him; but the performance was flawless, encapsulating the hope and sorrow found in the more desolate and weather-worn parts of Scotland.
Between the Mendelssohn symphonies, we were treated to Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor. The wonderful Alina Ibragimova took to the stage, and instantly stunned us with her masterful command of the violin. The piece itself was far heavier than the ‘Italian’ Symphony which preceded it, but the juxtaposition of the ominous lower register of the orchestra with Ibragimova’s melody really accentuated her playing magnificently. Her playing was never consumed by the rest of the orchestra at any point, even at her lowest dynamic; and her chords and scalic runs were perfect – something which is very difficult to achieve on a string instrument.
The Russian violinist was at one with her instrument, instructing the orchestra with her movements. Her fluid movements added a subtle beauty to the slower movements, and highlighted the serenity present in Schumann’s works which few composers achieve with such ease. Coupled with Gardiner’s conducting, the pair kept the audience’s attention drawn to the centre of the stage and almost distracted from the rest of the orchestra completely.
The LSO’s performance was breath-taking, and its length was just right. Unfortunately, despite Gardiner’s rock’n’roll throwing of the sheet music at the end, there was not a standing ovation for the orchestra (mainly because no-one really wanted to be the first to stand); but it was most definitely one of the best concerts of its genre that will be seen all year.