Music; LSO/Michael Tilson Thomas Barbican Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
Stravinsky's later music, from the mid-Fifties and throughout the Sixties, has been taken on trust. Critics not only coo over the spiky bits, which is perhaps understandable, but also over the sullen stretches between, as if having their faces slapped were not enough, their deepest cravings can only be satisfied by being bound, gagged and blindfold as well.

Of course, a composer whose orchestration Debussy had called infallible (though that was in Petrushka, way back in 1911) must be taken seriously, and Nadia Boulanger insisted that only Stravinsky could write 12-note music.

In the theatre, the ballet for which Stravinsky wrote Agon persuades you to accept sounds less easy to swallow in the concert hall, and last Thursday the LSO's dreary performance made very little sense except in the comparatively pretty archaisms of the Interludes.

The Ode of some 10 years earlier starts with one of Stravinsky's inimitable (though much imitated) chords for brass recalling the seminal Symphonies of Wind Instruments; it has an improbable "hunting" scene as middle movement (wishfully written but never used for a film of Jane Eyre) and ends with a cool, almost offhand Epitaph. We also heard the much-revered and analysed Huxley Variations of 1964 - five minutes of intensely plotted activity with "Danger: keep out!" written all over it - and by way of stoning the concert at the opposite extreme, the even shorter, deliberately oafish Circus Polka.

The orchestra didn't look as if they enjoyed much of this, and noticeably warmed to Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major after the interval. Jean-Yves Thibaudet sported a snazzy parody of evening dress with tails, brass buttons, waistcoat in red and gold brocade and red socks at which the orchestra barked and yelped delightedly in the outer movements. The middle one was properly very straight. A lovely, sharp performance of a perfect work. La Valse, to end, had lots of Schwung.

In the LSO's complementary concert of Stravinsky and Ravel on Sunday afternoon, Ravel, again, came off better. Thibaudet was the steely-fingered, infallible soloist in the Left Hand Piano Concerto - a particularly clear performance in which the big central section was almost explicated too literally at a rather steady tempo. The Second Daphnis and Chloe Suite followed and sounded pretty well faultless. This orchestra could probably play such a famous showpiece in its sleep.

The LSO Chorus woke up for their wordless contribution here, but before the interval, they sounded distinctly uncertain in Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, and the hypnotic power of the final movement was sorely tried by Tilson Thomas's excessively slow tempo. Perhaps the chorus was stupefied by having to sit through such a long first half, which included a platform move lasting a full 10 minutes after Scenes de ballet. Obviously, the Sunday programme was designed to show off the more palatable aspects of Stravinsky as a neo-classical or neo-whatever composer in the Twenties, Thirties and Forties. But to precede the lofty, neo-Bach style of the Symphony of Psalms by three of Stravinsky's frothiest dalliances with profane traditions seemed a bit insensitive. The Concertino and Scherzo a la Russe were mere starters. But Scenes de ballet was a main course in itself - a choreographic suite in which Stravinsky flirts with the diverting styles of 19th-century ballet, and Tchaikovsky in particular, with sophisticated flippancy. Well, it was precisely the inconsistency of his career that upset early critics of Stravinsky himself, so perhaps the jarring contrast had its point.

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