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The Independent Culture

M&S - not the high-street store but Mozart and Shostakovich - look set to dominate programme-planning in 2006. Both composers have anniversaries and, as here, in some combinations, their works can make very good bedfellows.

Opening the New Year, the LSO must have been glad to see a brimming hall. Programming by anniversaries is an old game and, sometimes (think Proms), seems almost the only justification. But in these times of doom-mongering, with classical music said to be losing its audience, anything that's quick, slick PR isn't to be sniffed at.

The combination of Mozart's last piano concerto and Shostakovich's massive 5th Symphony caused me to reflect on the social similarities between the two composers. Both suffered at the hands of "the establishment"; both wrote music whose bitter-sweet message is deeply complex; both had to get on with it. The large span of time separating their activities did little to alter attitudes, even if Mozart was never under immediate threat of death.

Stepping in to replace the indisposed Murray Perahia, Maria João Pires was a marvellous choice. Too rarely does she appear on these shores, for she is the most natural of Mozart players. Her diminutive presence makes you wonder if the necessary power can be present. But Mozart is rarely about power, more about subtleties of phrasing and phrase length, colouring, placement and fine articulation. This, Pires produced in spades, her velvety tone both delicate and firm. And here was a chamber musician, constantly looking towards the wind players as they duetted delightfully together. With a soloist like this, who needs a conductor?

But if Mozart might fare better without conductor, Bernard Haitink was needed to steer the now massive orchestra through its paces in the Shostakovich. It seems incredible that this symphony was regarded by anyone - not least Shostakovich - as being penance following the mauling by Pravda in its article headlined "Muddle instead of music". Of course, military drums, pounding mallet instruments, blazing horns, sickly sweet strings, eerie celesta, are open to interpretation...

There were marvellous moments: the 1st fiddles at the opening, vibrato-less, using scarcely any bow hair; the bucolic horns and bassoons in the Scherzo; the solo winds in the Largo. But Haitink is too kindly a man to really instigate steel.

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