Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Photo: Keith Sheriff
Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Photo: Keith Sheriff © Keith Sheriff/Barbican

The Los Angeles Philharmonic knows how to make friends. For its encore the orchestra offered the love scene from Hitchcock’s Vertigo, most intoxicating of Hollywood film scores. Hearing Bernard Herrmann’s music played live by a symphony orchestra of this quality was worth the price of the ticket by itself.

The LA Phil’s spring tour has taken it to five cities — New York, Amsterdam, Paris, Luxembourg and, its final port of call, London. Of these, London is the most favoured. It gets a three-concert residency, opening with this colourful showcase of music from the Americas.

Gustavo Dudamel, music and artistic director, knows how to put a programme together. There was a neat link from the film encore back to the concert’s opening with Soundings, composed by John Star Wars Williams in 2003 for the opening of the LA’s Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. Sadly, the orchestra was not able to bring the hall with it. Even in the Barbican, though, Williams’s festive glitz did the job — not much content, as is usually the case with celebratory scores, but plenty of fizz.

It is the centenary of Alberto Ginastera this year. Not many orchestras will trouble themselves with that, but Dudamel honoured the Argentinian composer’s memory with his Piano Concerto from 1961. In one work this neatly fuses the two sides of Ginastera — splashy, Latin American energy and open prairies echoing with modernist twiddlings. The pianist, Sergio Tiempo, splashed with abandon and (it seemed) accuracy. The orchestra treated every twiddle with high-class precision.

It might have seemed impossible to turn up the heat any more after Ginastera’s high-octane outbursts. Not so: Andrew Norman’s Play: Level 1 (2013), part one of a three-part score, is the musical equivalent of riding the rapids with the safety harness off. New, coruscating sounds flash past at a frenetic speed and the LA musicians’ panache reached lift-off velocity. It was exhausting to hear. Whatever was it like to play?

It was thoughtful of Dudamel to calm everybody’s nerves by ending with Copland’s Appalachian Spring suite and the fresh, cool air of an American 20th-century classic. In a concert like this the LA Phil sounds at the top of its game.

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