LSO / Harding, Barbican, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Viktoria Mullova played the unaccompanied opening measures of Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto with the self-contained poise and austerity of solo Bach. With the arrival of the orchestra and the lyric second theme, she carried the line with cool, unfussy elegance.

Mullova doesn't get in the way. Musical objectivity might have been originated by her. Her physical presence does not even hint at what she might be feeling. You could say this is a good thing – that we are here for Prokofiev, not Mullova – but I, for one, want to know what she thinks and feels.

Her presentation of the slow movement's arioso-like melody was modest to the point of plainness, conveying little sense of its innate rapture. And when she assumed the soaring counterpoint in one of those breathtaking Prokofiev "reversals", she did so dispassionately. Closing your eyes, the acid test, confirmed that something – engagement, ardour, temperament, what you will – was missing.

The link with Britten's Spring Symphony was the Russian exile Serge Koussevitzky, whose foundation commissioned it. And this was nothing if not a timely performance on the day British summer time officially began. In Daniel Harding's incisive reading, the winter thaw was almost brutally arresting, the London Symphony Chorus delivering their a cappella banishment of wintry night with terrific unanimity.

What follows is an exhilarating pageant of seasonal Englishness whose freshness is a tribute to Britten's inventive way with word-setting. No sooner had Harding's three excellent soloists, Susan Gritton, Sarah Connolly and Mark Padmore, ceased chirruping in their bird-call cadenzas than the Tiffin Boys Choir were assuming the carefree identity of "The Driving Boy", jaunty tuba offset by their raucous wolf whistles. Padmore was marvellously deft and articulate throughout, especially in crisp alliance with the harps in Richard Barnfield's poem "When Will My May Come".

And when May did come, heralded from the stage by a genuine cow horn, the great swinging climax was as close as Britten ever came to writing "The Carousel Waltz". "Sumer is icumen in", the boys sang lustily. We can but hope.

Comments