<< -- 3 -- David Wilkins A WORTHY WINNER
Claus Efland drew the suite from Copland's Appalachian Spring and then drew some exhilarating bite from the LSO strings and American brashness from the heavy brass to make their Chicago counterparts sound like residents of a city beset by occasional light breezes. Not much in the way of genuine 'piano', though, and, if the challenge of this piece is to marry the simplicity and the sophistication, it came across as a mite too knowing. Just think who the LSO have played this work with -- its composer, Bernstein, Previn, Tilson Thomas: a hard act to follow! It's in the orchestra's blood and they always seem to have a great time pumping it around. The 'shaker melody' crept in on too tight a rein (all three conductors failed to trust their instrumentalists enough) but there were sufficient hints that Efland realises you don't have to be forever doing something, imposing, micromanaging. When he simply let the orchestra play, they played beautifully for him.
Shostakovitch always presents the challenge of how to measure and reveal the irony in his music. Fabien Gabel knows that jollity is an ambiguous and all-too-precarious commodity in this unwillingly-Soviet musical world. His interpretation (the only time in the evening I'd feel comfortable using that word) of the Ninth Symphony was individual and mature. Significantly, it was also the least score-bound display of the concert. Gabel cues with care but without ostentation, he addresses sections of the orchestra and he stays with them. He's still too coy with the one-on-one stuff of encouraging solo lines (woodwinds, for example) but there was real engagement here and a more than simply professional enthusiasm in the LSO's response. His style has a lot of 'windmilling' and lateral swiping but I'm one who doesn't much care what it looks like when it works. And work it certainly did.
Fabien Gabel in action. Photo © Chris Christodoulou
The jury, chaired by Lord Birkett and including Patrick Harrild (principal tuba of the LSO) and conductors Jan Latham-Koenig, Janos Furst and Michel Plasson didn't take long to reach the only sensible verdict. Fabien Gabel was a worthy winner on the night. And now it's down to him and we must all wish him well. Of course, by the time the Prince of Wales did the honours with style, the glorious orchestral musicians -- only begetters of anything a conductor can achieve -- had long vanished into the damp and chilly November night.