Walker, Harding, LSO, classical review: A worthy tribute to Claudio Abbado

Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

There’s no stopping Huw Watkins, who complements his activities as a pianist and professor with a steady stream of new compositions: string quartets, song cycles, chamber operas, and this week a flute concerto.

The assumed imbalance of forces in such an idea puts most composers off, but with the aid of Adam Walker, the remarkable young flautist for whom this work was written, Watkins has managed to bring flute and orchestra into something approaching parity.

If there are echoes of Bartokian night-music in the slow movement, the work as a whole has a vernal freshness. Looking as elegant as he sounded, Walker had as many notes to play as the rest of the orchestra put together, and his non-stop stream of birdsong was presented with a virtuosity which was discreet rather than showy (no flamboyant flutter-tonguing, or shakuhachi effects).

Under Daniel Harding’s direction the London Symphony Orchestra cast a matching spell, at one point answering the flute’s busy monologue with a ravishing blend of high strings, woodwind, and harp.

With its own inbuilt birdsong, Mahler’s First Symphony was a perfect sequel, and, in their precision of detail and command of big forms, Harding and the LSO made this a worthy tribute to their concert’s dedicatee, Claudio Abbado.