Ole Edvard Antonsen

The Times (London) Concert Review

November 3, 2009

London Symphony Orchestra/Jarvi at the Barbican, London EC2

Geoff Brown

I was looking at Kristjan Järvi's legs. During moments of high excitement, the conductor's left leg struts ahead to occupy a new position closer to the orchestra's action. The right then executes a nifty fast glide to keep up. The move was especially notable during Lemminkäinen's Return, the flag-waving finale to Sibelius's Lemminkäinen legends, conducted without a score, but with florid gestures and very audible love. Not that the London Symphony Orchestra needed much prodding to excel. With their shining precision, rounded tones and spirited emotions, this was already a golden night, though unveiled to some empty seats. No doubt the 1993 trumpet concerto Epiclesis of James MacMillan (he's receiving a 50th birthday focus this season) scared away some punters. As things were, its dissonant ruckus prompted a few distant boos.

Yet this at least was ruckus with a purpose. The composer offers a Roman Catholic meditation, admittedly of the bristling sort, on the transformation of Christ's body and blood into the Eucharist's bread and wine. And the musical argument's pattern, with plainsong underpinning both violence and calm, is very similar to his percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, which made friends around the world.

Ole Edvard Antonsen, Norway's trumpet god, played his instrument with such passion and heat that I'm surprised that neither of them melted. Yet the piece's impact, good or bad, wouldn't have been so strong without the LSO. The orchestra doesn't delve into modernities every day, but when it does, the musicians deliver 150 per cent, with a brilliance and ease that can make even the rowdiest grinding sweet. Odd to find Epiclesis, though, abutting against the musical lollipops of Grieg's Lyric Suite. The Finnish epic of Sibelius suited orchestra and conductor better. In Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of Saari, the narrative momentum blew us ever forwards; while throbbing strings and Christine Pendrill's pensive cor anglais gave us The Swan of Tuonela in 3-D. All this, plus Järvi's legs.