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LSO/Ward review – from fierce dynamism to gorgeous indulgence

Tim Ashley
·2-min read

The London Symphony Orchestra’s online series continues with a concert conducted by Duncan Ward and pre-recorded earlier this month at LSO St Lukes. It opened with Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion by the Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz. Introducing it himself, Ward described the 1958 work – an edgy, angry concerto grosso – as “ruthless in its vitality and power”. Revealing the influence on more than one occasion of Bartók, it contrasts a queasy, penumbral central adagio with motoric, violently syncopated outer movements. Ward’s superbly controlled performance was marvellous in its fierce dynamism and electrifying precision.

The centrepiece, in sharp contrast, was Strauss’s great Oboe Concerto, written in 1945 at the suggestion of an American oboist serving in the allied forces, who visited the elderly composer at his Bavarian villa shortly after the close of the second world war. An ecstatic outpouring of continuous melody, it’s the work of a man who had just emerged from a nightmare of conflict and Nazi intimidation. Its extraordinary mix of joy, nostalgia and tears, so characteristic of late Strauss, was superbly captured by Ward and the LSO’s principal oboist Juliana Koch: her playing was exemplary both in technical finesse and emotional depth, its beauty belying the fearsome demands Strauss places on his soloist.

“In the current times, we could all do with a bit of indulgence,” Ward remarked, introducing the final work, Franz Schreker’s Chamber Symphony, dating from 1916, a remarkable piece in many ways. Scored for 23 players, it’s cast in a single evolving movement, divided into four sections that approximate conventional symphonic structure. Post-Mahlerian in tone, it crisscrosses the thin dividing line between sensuousness and sensuality, while its instrumentation, owing something to Strauss’s Salome and even more to early Schoenberg, is opulent in the extreme – an extraordinary display of kaleidoscopic colour, which Ward teased out with a combination of refinement and spine-tingling immediacy. It was gorgeously played by the LSO.

Available on Marquee TV until 27 March (£ or free for signup to a trial period); read the programme notes.