Classical: Exactly what it says on the page

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The Independent Culture
BACK AT the Barbican four days after its exertions with Penderecki, the London Symphony Orchestra sounded completely transformed when it played the first of this autumn's concerts, conducted by Myung-Whun Chung. Not better, just different. Tone was brighter, rhythms were more vital, the melodies had a new, saturated intensity. And all in the gloomiest symphony ever written.

That sounds perverse, but their performance of Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" had the emotional force it should have done, and it owed much of its impact to an ability to play incisively while maintaining a high temperature. Some conductors try to make their presentations of well-known pieces sound personal by imposing themselves on the music. Chung seems to take another, perhaps more effective route. Look within the score, see what you find there, use your skill to show the orchestra and help them turn it into sound; if it's done well the music-making will have vitality and immediacy.

What Chung found in the symphony was the big picture, and the details that count most in building it up. Although pacing was generally lively, there were two key moments that went to extremes of breadth, and they had to be played in a way that would sustain them. At the symphony's main climax, the music suddenly transfers to sustained strings and loses its animation. But it has to keep its power; instead of the tone being forced, the tempo was gradually stretched and the tension kept on growing.

The moment didn't come off perfectly, thanks to a combination of equally intense trumpets and the hall's acoustic, but the strings had it their way on the second occasion. The finale's big tune started slow and stayed slow, a tactic that usually makes it sound strained, but here it expanded into a sort of ecstasy, then suddenly imploded. So the symphony's end, unaffectedly phrased, was very dark. Glimpses of darkness - fine work from bassoon and trombones - had been making their mark throughout the performance without having to be overemphasised, and the sum easily transcended the parts.

A similarly fresh approach made Verdi's Force of Destiny overture big on potent silences and exact timing. The concert's concerto was a rarity, and if it had been programmed as a vehicle for the trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger it had the effect of making new friends for its composer, the thoroughly Mediterranean Henri Tomasi, who flourished in mid-century Paris. It is in the tradition of Ravel and Ibert, and its brilliant and light orchestration conveys a wide expressive range with some well-packed punches on the way to a witty finale.

This attitude to composing more or less guaranteed that he would be sidelined in the age when new music was supposed to be "challenging", but it certainly creates an appetite for his other music, which includes 15 other concertos and a Symphony of the Third World as well as at least one successful opera. Hardenberger delivered the virtuoso goods with his usual flair, though he led too often from the front - much of the concerto's pleasure is in its shades of colour, and there are passages when the trumpet is really accompanying the orchestra, not vice versa.