Published: 7 October, 2010
by SEBASTIAN TAYLOR
RUSSIAN violinist Viktoria Mullova launched the London Symphony Orchestra’s season-long programme of 12 violin concertos at the Barbican with a moving performance of Prokofiev’s second in G minor.
Since defecting from Russia in 1983, she’s become one of the world’s most celebrated musicians, known as a violinist of exceptional versatility and musical integrity.
The concert was also notable for being a double-debut of young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons, his first with the LSO and his first in the Barbican.
His handling of the overture to Wagner’s Tannhäuser at the opening of Barbican concert was quite outstanding, intimate woodwind thrills highlighted alongside the swathes of expansive string playing.
Regretfully, then, the Prokofiev failed to scale the musical heights of expectation set by the opening work.
Too often, Mullova’s sensitive, intelligent violin playing was up against the conductor’s operatic instructions to the LSO, her violin only leading the concerto in the exciting finale.
The subsequent performance of Shostakovich’s fifth symphony would have brought tears even to Stalin’s eyes. The work was composed in 1937 to conform with Socialist Realism at a time when Shostakovich feared for his life amidst the Great Terror. Many consider it to be one of the finest musical expressions of optimism, fully delivered by the Latvian conductor. But after the Prokofiev, it came across as the height of banality.
Viktoria Mullova is playing Beethoven sonatas at LSO St Luke’s, Old Street, on October 22 and she’s working on a contemporary music project with Matthew Barley, the cellist, adventurist and innovator, to be performed at LSO St Luke’s on October 26.
• Autumn highlights of the LSO’s violin concerto series:
Oct 10 & 12: Anne-Sophie Mutter/Dvorak (see listings); Oct 26: James Ehnes/Bartok’s No 2; Oct 28: Viktoria Mullova/ Stravinsky; Dec 15: Midori/Bruch’s No1; Dec 21: Viktoria Mullova/Beethoven