There were, it seemed, enough trumpets to serve Gabriel throughout eternity – and, as fanfares go, this one was stretching a point and then some. LSO On Track had commissioned it from Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and true to the spirit of this enterprise seeking to field young musicians of mixed abilities alongside players from the London Symphony Orchestra Fanfare: Her Majesty’s Welcome commandeered its battalions of extra wind from the nearby Guildhall School and gave “Her Majesty”, and us, an earful – the kind of public racket that would easily be heard all the way over in Buckingham Palace. Oddly, it seemed to me to have an American accent, as if Leonard Bernstein had tried his hand at a bit of Waltonesque ceremonial. Walton would blaze later – and how – under Antonio Pappano.
Speaking of blazing, Janine Jansen plunged so dramatically into the attack following the huge orchestral introduction of Brahms’ Violin Concerto that she forced a lapse in tuning that was as startling as it was uncharacteristic. It mattered not a jot in the context of that explosive first entry and it demonstrated the risks she would be taking to bring this wonderful concerto off the page and maximise its theatrical extremes. The arpeggios and double-stopping smouldered, the rapt ascents were as sweet as they were perfectly tuned – and sometimes within a bar she would encompass both: like the switch from the ethereal and withdrawn to gutsy driving trills down on the G string in the developing heart of the first movement. The seraphic passage at the close of that movement was gloriously rapt – as was the slow movement which brought, as expected, some ecstatic highs.
The sight of her in her sleek crimson gown was about as far removed from the sound of the foot-stomping country dancing of the finale as it was possible to imagine and Pappano was a glorious ally, pushing orchestral accents and Hungarian “hesitations” to a bracing level of rusticity.
Pappano’s innate rhythmic sense and sharp nose for theatre payed equal dividends in a terrific account of Walton’s marvellous First Symphony – and in this he had an orchestra – the LSO – who pretty much own the piece. The famous Andre Previn recording from the 60s has proved the benchmark for any subsequent performance and what Pappano did here and what Previn did back then was to “terrace” the inexorable climaxes of the tumultuous first movement so shrewdly that there always seemed to be more to come. The really big release towards the close, which comes on like a pagan processional with flaring trumpet trills and detonating timpani, was doubly thrilling for not peaking too soon. And what an asset the brightness and brawn of the LSO is in the scherzo where the trenchancy of its rhythmic malice was again punctuated with flair by Nigel Thomas’ timpani playing.
But it was the slow movement – cooly, dreamily (sognando – Walton’s favourite word) coming into focus with Adam Walker’s exquisite flute solo – which played to Pappano’s Italianate strengths, not least his “vocal” feeling for line, and if certain pages already seemed to yearn for Walton’s eventual haven in Ischia in the Bay of Naples the “last post” trumpet solo immediately prior to the blazing coda of the finale – beautifully played with a gently nostalgic vibrato by Philip Cobb – surely belonged to Oldham, Lancashire, Walton’s home town. Great piece, great performance.