Classical review: London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev, Usher Hall

IT WAS night two in what’s proving to be an illuminating series contrasting Szymanowski and Brahms symphonies from the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev, and the revelations just kept on coming.

IT WAS night two in what’s proving to be an illuminating series contrasting Szymanowski and Brahms symphonies from the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev, and the revelations just kept on coming.

Star rating: * * * *

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Star of the show was Szymanowski’s Second Symphony, a piece that’s rarely performed – although when you hear its lush orchestration and surging climaxes, you begin to wonder why. It’s the ideal piece for Gergiev’s driven showmanship. And although he gave a sparkling performance full of energy and colour, it wasn’t just empty show.

He masterfully brought clarity to the closing fugue’s dense contrapuntal textures, and his pacing was expert throughout. LSO leader Roman Simovic had plenty of chances to shine from a lengthy opening solo onwards.

If one of the conductor’s motivations with the series is to popularise Szymanowski’s music, then performances like will achieve exactly that.

After the interval, Gergiev shone a whole new light on the Brahms Second Symphony, in quite a restrained approach that combined an easy-going freedom with an underlying sense of power.

The orchestra responded with finely nuanced playing.

The final revelation, though, was how the two pieces showed their respective composers relaxing into their individual musical personalities – Brahms escaping from the influence of Beethoven, and Szymanowski turning his back on folk-inspired Polish nationalism.

And those new-found freedoms were mirrored perfectly in Gergiev’s fresh and spontaneous performances.