The summer blues are over. Come what would have been the opening of the new concert season, the UK's orchestras are springing back to life — most with online concerts, inevitable under present restrictions, though some are making plans to return to something more like normal.
Even better news is that there is some seriously interesting music-making out there. It is a leap of artistic imagination to go from some of the half-baked online offerings of the past six months to a concert that commands attention like this one from Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra.
At present the LSO is at St Luke's, its rehearsal venue and small hall. Each concert until the end of November can be viewed online, some free on YouTube, most on a series of different pay sites (complicated, but it spreads the LSO's name around). After that the LSO will make its return to the Barbican for a Beethoven piano concerto cycle with Krystian Zimerman.
During his years as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, Rattle seems to have pined for English music. His seasons with the LSO have invariably opened with all-English fare and here was a typical Rattle menu, featuring a premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage, complemented by Knussen and Britten. The concert can be viewed on demand at Medici TV.
Composer Oliver Knussen was Turnage's friend and mentor, and his untimely death two years ago has prompted Turnage to write Last Song for Olly, a 15-minute lament. Ever since Kai, composed in memory of a young cellist and premiered by Rattle in 1990, Turnage has mined some of his finest music in memorial pieces. A charming if heavy-footed dance opens this one — "lumpen" Rattle called it, as if picturing Knussen's generous bulk — before a timeless horizon expands, filling with a threnody majestically intoned by brass from the upper floor of St Luke's.
In order to fit all the players into this venue Turnage had to make a small-scale version of his score. The brilliance of his orchestral writing belied the fact, especially in St Luke's very lively acoustic, but it is good to think that this premiere performance can be followed by another of the full-sized version. Last Song for Olly achieves an emotional stature way beyond its modest scale.
On either side Rattle and the LSO offered a pair of vocal works. Lucy Crowe was the soprano in Knussen's magical "Songs and a Sea Interlude from Where the Wild Things Are". Tenor Allan Clayton and horn soloist Richard Watkins brought a wide emotional range to Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. Suddenly, artistic life is looking up in the City of London.
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