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London Symphony Orchestra final night - Festival blogger review

Festival blogger Jim Taylor reviews the final night of the London Symphony Orchestra's four concert residency.

Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra's four-night residency at the Usher Hall has been a particular highlight of this year's Edinburgh International Festival, one which came to a fittingly dramatic close on Sunday night with storming performances of the fourth symphonies of both Johannes Brahms and Karol Szymanowski.

Eighty years after its debut performance, Szymanowski's fourth still has the power to startle and delight audiences, combining as it does moments of frenzied crescendo with sequences of stately contemplation, as well as the melodic eccentricities of Polish folk music. Almost a concerto rather than a symphony, this sinfonia concertante features the piano prominently, and Denis Matsuev's hammered cascade of notes and somewhat jazzy inflections kept the audience spellbound throughout the performance. Almost as a bonus, concert-goers were also treated to a performance of Szymanowski's second violin concerto, featuring the extraordinary talents of virtuoso violinist Leonidas Kavakos. Fresh from his concert with Nikolai Lugansky earlier in the week, Kavakos' delicate yet fiery playing lead the way in a concerto of bittersweet emotion, which ranged from tranquil introspection to impassioned bombast.

After the interval, the audience was treated to the sheer spectacle of Gergiev conducting the LSO in their performance of Brahms' final symphony, also the final piece of their residency at this year's festival. The sight and sound of every concert-goer in the hall waiting in reverent silence for Gergiev to raise his hands and begin the performance was breath-taking, and served as a suitable calm before the musical storm which was to ensue. A brisk interpretation of the symphony saw the playful rhythms and pastoral warmth of the first two movements nicely contrasted with the more frenetic drama of the third and fourth movements. Brahms' rich harmonies, in part based upon a theme from one of J.S. Bach's cantatas, were exquisitely rendered by the combined efforts of the orchestra, urged on to new heights by Gergiev's commanding influence.

The rapturous and much-deserved applause which greeted the symphony's thunderous conclusion was enough to elicit a short encore from the performers, bringing the evening to a light-hearted close. No-one in attendance could have left doubting that they had witnessed something special, the concert having been made so not simply by the reputation and prestige of the LSO and their charismatic conductor, but by the sheer quality of the evening's performance. It was a most memorable concert, worthy of the UK's premier orchestra.

You can read more from Jim on his blog.

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