Classical: LSO / AHRONOVITCH Barbican Centre, London

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The Independent Culture
In the privacy of the home, it is fun to play records of favourite pieces as the fancy dictates - Copland's Quiet City, say, Mozart's Fourth Horn Concerto, Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. But such whimsical sequences can rarely be said to constitute a programme, and the London Symphony Orchestra's Barbican concert under Yuri Ahronovitch last Sunday, consisting as it did of just those three pieces, remained no more than the sum of its parts, fine though those parts were.

If one of the prime requirements of the well-planned programme is that items should be chosen to illuminate each other, then the first half of this concert provided a rather ironic variant of the idea. Opening with Quiet City, the LSO generated a marvellous soundscape under Ahronovitch's watchful lead, while Copland's spare, open-string textures created, as only his music can, that sense of urban loneliness, of the uprooted individual. Against those perfectly weighted textures, the exquisitely shaped cor anglais and trumpet solos spoke with touching directness. It was a reading of style and quiet intensity.

While the orchestra had created a floating luminosity in Copland, Mozart was made to sound dense and not a little ponderous by the use of an over- full string section founded on five basses and six cellos. The juxtaposition may have offered a lesson in the number of strings required for different styles of music, but it was also detrimental to Mozart's perfectly conceived orchestral writing and unhelpful to the golden horn-playing of Barry Tuckwell, a soloist of commanding mastery and poetic sensitivity.

After the rather disappointing orchestral sound in the Mozart, however, Ahronovitch and his players rose to Tchaikovsky's demands with the utmost power, textural clarity and dramatic flair. If one had a reservation about this colourful and passionate interpretation, it was that Ahronovitch's tempo changes occasionally went against the inner workings of what is not only a melodically captivating and emotionally exciting work, but also a profoundly symphonic and intellectual one.

Why, for instance, did he slow down in mid-statement when the fate motive returned in the first movement? Tchaikovsky makes no such request and there was a grinding in the symphonic gearbox as a result. Again, in the slow movement, the central episode is marked to go quicker, yet Ahronovitch took it slower, while in the finale, where a thrilling impetus is absolutely vital, he suddenly slowed up for the second big chordal subject.

Nothing was gained by these manoeuvres, indeed there were losses in terms of dramatic inevitability and concentrated expression. At the same time, there was much that was admirable. The orchestra performed with great panache throughout, shining in all departments, and for all his waywardness, Ahronovitch identified most intensely with the music.