Classical & Opera: A Leppard who's changed his spots

Britain's loss has been America's gain in the case of Raymond Leppard. After his pioneering work with the English Chamber Orchestra, Leppard left a decade ago to take charge of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

Musically, this time of year is very much high season; and there's a wealth of potentially enthralling events to choose from. And with London's five major native symphony orchestras in full flight, it might take something extra-special to attract the listener to a concert by a visiting orchestra. Still, the combination of Raymond Leppard and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has plenty to recommend it.

Britain has produced any number of musical exiles, yet perhaps one of the saddest "losses" has been that of Raymond Leppard. Leppard's pioneering work with the English Chamber Orchestra and at Glyndebourne now seems long in the past. For the last decade, he has been Music Director in Indianapolis. Still, perhaps our loss has been the Americans' gain for, during that time, Leppard has steered the orchestra to new heights, both in the concert hall and on disc. A tight and highly professional unit, Indianapolis customarily produces an ample and rugged sound, held firmly together by a pristine ensemble.

And perhaps where better to air those considerable talents than in Tchaikovsky's dramatic 4th Symphony? The symphony has been termed a "dance dialectic"; and it dates from a highly emotional period in the composer's life, during the aftermath of his disastrous marriage. Loosely programmatic, the piece centres on a collision between Man and the inevitable Fate that awaits him. Having introduced the menacing fate theme with a blazing opening fanfare, Tchaikovsky proceeds to tussle with it throughout his symphonic groundplan, casting it, by turns, in both sinister and sentimental guises. For any orchestra, the major challenge of Tchaikovsky's 4th is to render and achieve that sense of unity through diversity. Can the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra carry it off? With Leppard at the helm, it's a fair bet that this fine American unit, paying an all too rare visit to these shores, certainly can.

Raymond Leppard conducts the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Royal Festival Hall, SE1 (0171-960 4242) tomorrow at 5pm

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