Live review: LSO / Solti; Barbican Centre, London

There are no half measures with Sir Georg Solti. A Solti performance is either taut as a crossbow or flat and flabby as the proverbial pancake. Solti was in crossbow mode at the London Symphony Orchestra's Barbican concert on Wednesday, the latest in the LSO's Bruckner-Mozart Series, which played to an impressively full, and on the whole impressively dressed, house.

Was it Bruckner, Mozart, Solti or pianist Murray Perahia that sold the tickets? Probably a combination of the four: there was no sign of a decline in numbers for Bruckner's Fourth Symphony after the interval, the point at which the Bruckner-allergic would have been expected to creep away. Indeed, there were loud cheers at the end of the Symphony, but I wonder what the avid Brucknerians in the audience made of it. Solti is one of those, alas, rare conductors who evidently realises that there's more to this composer than architecture and the cultivation of a "Bruckner sound". Bruckner's phrasing and articulation marks can be surprisingly detailed and, to his credit, Solti has clearly noticed and responded to these. But in the first movement Solti's articulation seemed to be about 95 per cent accents, from short stabs to heavy body- blows. Melodies and countermelodies that almost beg to be allowed to open up and sing were tightly reined in, or, worse still, chivvied along impatiently.

But this was pure relaxation compared with what Solti did in the last movement. Here he appeared determined to beat the world land speed record for a Bruckner finale. Did he have a point? Well, there are good reasons for getting away from the customary portentous plod in Bruckner; and yes, the finale of the Fourth does have its longueurs, especially when it gets stuck in repetitive two-bar periods. But dragging it by the scruff of the neck isn't the answer. The music hardly even paused for breath, and as for savouring Bruckner's gorgeous harmonic shifts and suspensions - no time for that.

The pacing and incisive accentuation were more effective in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro overture. Fiery and sharp-edged, it was exciting enough, if not overflowing with a sense of fun. The opening orchestral section of Mozart's D minor Piano Concerto, K466, promised something similar, but then soloist Murray Perahia came to the rescue with his very personal blend of intelligence and elegant expressiveness. This wasn't quite Perahia at his best, the slow movement (not, perhaps, as interesting or melodically inspired as the fast outer movements) retreated into a somewhat mechanical brilliance in its minor-key central section. But there was some lovely singing phrasing in the lyrical solos of the first and last movements. And here the tension between Perahia's and Solti's approaches could be dramatically telling - Orpheus taking on the Furies perhaps? Unfortunately, as the Bruckner then showed, this particular Fury isn't easily tamed.

STEPHEN JOHNSON

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