LPO/Litton/Benedetti, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Even Sir John Tavener can be brought abruptly, unceremoniously down to earth. A broken string for soloist Nicola Benedetti during the world premiere of Tavener's violin concerto Lalishri came as a salutary reminder that the practical can mess with the spiritual. And since Tavener's music relies to such a great extent on the trance-like state it induces in its audience, this enforced hiatus was especially unfortunate. Merging with "the absolute", as Tavener describes it, is not a process that takes kindly to interruption.

His inspiration for Lalishri was the 14th-century Hindu saint and poet Lalla Yogishwari, whose own journey to this state of bliss or oneness with God is chronicled by the soloist in music that alternates between Tavener's eternal note-spinning high up on the E string and vigorously arpeggiated or strummed dances sensually coloured in the Indian raga style.

Some of it is actually rather beautiful. But whether you think of Tavener's music as good karma or simply too little music spread too thinly, you will at least acknowledge that this piece, repetitions aside, is quite eventful by Tavener standards. The dances achieved a kind of apotheosis in multi-divided strings at one point, and the real climax, with Benedetti's broken octaves soaring exultantly above sustained chords from the string quartet at heaven's gate, as it were, carried an undeniable quality of ecstasy. You left humming the refrain that serves as a benediction over each section of the piece, partly because it's a dead ringer for the slow movement of the Bruch Violin Concerto. Same key, I think, too.

Elgar's Second Symphony is more my idea of ecstasy. Andrew Litton (who is receiving the Elgar Medal for services to his music) showed his Elgarian credentials with Sir Adrian Boult's old orchestra. Having said that, there were signs that the London Philharmonic hadn't played it in a while. The first movement in particular made for a few awkward corners.

Still, it was good to hear a conductor take time to warm phrasings and enrich the atmosphere, and the great slow movement rolled out with magnificent intensity, violins delivering their weeping glissandi with real abandon at the climax. Speaking of climaxes, the scherzo's "four horsemen of the apocalypse" thundered spectacularly into view, Litton really making something of the pounding percussion that heralds their arrival.

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