LPO/Metzmacher, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Karl Amadeus Hartmann's music has always hovered just outside the general repertoire.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann's music has always hovered just outside the general repertoire. Pungent and distinctive in style, he stands somewhere between Shostakovich and Henze, more intricate than the former, more lucid than the latter, and arguably more publicly committed than either. He remained in Nazi Germany but would not let his music be performed there. Afterwards, he withdrew or rewrote his earlier music, supposedly to edit out excessive signs of its time.

The conductor Ingo Metzmacher is championing Hartmann in the latter's centenary year. He evidently scared off a proportion of the London Philharmonic's usual audience, but - to judge by the response - he took those who turned up from a position of scepticism to one of somewhat stunned affection. Miserae is a graphic, single-movement symphony, dedicated to the first victims of Dachau - and this not retrospectively but as early as 1935.

With its snarling trombones, wild marches and Jewish-inflected song melody, brutally cut off at the end, it is easy to treat allegorically. But it holds attention by its symphonic strengths, building steadily to gripping outbursts whose expressive power depends as much on the way they are reached as on what they may symbolise. The abruptness of the strangely truncated later stages perhaps accounted for its tepid reception here, not merited by playing of great exactness and impetus.

Hartmann's Symphony No 3 was another matter. It's a half-hour reworking of music from two pre-war pieces into a single-minded sequence, a rise and fall from deepest gloom to exuberant activity and back into utter darkness. The composer offers no meaning outside the effect of the music, but the feeling is indeed like the aftermath of a holocaust. Spacious laments for strings sustain it, interrupted by a relentless series of build-ups. Altogether more vivid and effective scoring than the earlier work added to its impact, and to its challenges for the players, whose successes included several quick-handed feats for the timpanist.

The question remains as to whether in the long run this concert will have helped engineer more performances in a repertoire that already can't find room for the likes of Martinu, Roussel and Hindemith.

Between the two pieces came a performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, as private as the other music was public. Midori's refined tone and subtly poised expression had the orchestra responding with the air of an intimate conversation. The German word "innig", an untranslatable description that transcends the self-centred overtones of "introvert" or "interior", was made for this experience. But there was enough cumulative energy and springy rhythm in the orchestral passages to show Metzmacher's credentials as a Beethoven conductor. Next time the LPO hasn't been overdoing the symphonies, his name should be on the list for programming the Seventh or Eighth.