Simon Rattle began his final season as the LSO’s music director as he had each of his previous ones with the orchestra, with a concert of British music. The national anthem had been added at the start of the evening, and in the circumstances the main work in Rattle’s programme could hardly have been more appropriate – it was Elgar’s Second Symphony, whose slow movement is a funeral march dedicated to the memory of King Edward VII, who had died while it was being composed.
After eight weeks of the muddled acoustics of the Albert Hall, returning to the immediate, focused sound of the orchestra in the Barbican, every strand of even the most complex textures diamond sharp, was a thrill in itself. But Rattle’s account of the symphony was startling in its own right, fiercely urgent in its first movement, with the exuberance of the whooping Straussian horns in the opening pages setting the tone for what followed, intensely introspective in the funeral march, with its bereft, wandering oboe solo, building the hyperactive rondo to a terrifying climax, and lovingly drawing out the finale’s last remembrance of the symphony’s “spirit of joy” theme in guiding the symphony to a hushed conclusion.
Before the symphony had come another much more rarely heard score, which the LSO delivered with equal, coruscating precision. Frank Bridge’s rhapsody Enter Spring. First performed in 1927, it is one of a handful of late orchestral works, though less coloured than some of them by the first world war, which steered his music in the direction of modernism. Debussy and Ravel rather than Berg and the Second Viennese School are the reference points in the rhapsody, which overflows with ideas, sometimes a bit too generously, but it was brought to life more convincingly here than the most ardent Bridge fan could have hoped.
Rattle has made a point, each season, of including a brand new work in his opening concert, too, and here it was Daniel Kidane’s Sun Poem. Kidane describes it as a lullaby for his infant son; it’s certainly vividly coloured, with spiky brass writing that sometimes recalls Janáček; it’s an effective opener, but with more technique than personality, and generic rather than memorable ideas.