LSO/Vänskä/Kavakos - review

Leonidas Kavakos
The Guardian (UK)

By Andrew Clements

Finding replacements to conduct the concerts planned for Colin Davis has become a regular task for the London Symphony Orchestra this autumn. But for the latest, an all-Sibelius programme, they could hardly have managed to find a better substitute: there is no conductor alive today with a better pedigree as an interpreter of the greatest of all Finnish composers than Osmo Vänskä.

Vänskä usually appears in London these days with the LPO or the BBC Symphony, so it was fascinating to hear him with a very different band. He had taken over Davis's programme unchanged – the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies, separated by the Violin Concerto with Leonidas Kavakos as soloist – and the performances had the Vänskä hallmarks of meticulous detail and total assurance.

Yet he seems a different conductor from the one who divided his time between the BBC Scottish and the Lahti Symphonies in the late 1990s. His nine years with the Minnesota Symphony have left their influence – the way he drove the first movement of the Sixth Symphony to a fierce climax, or highlighted bright instrumental detail in the second, suggested a conductor who now imposes himself on the music so as to project it as vividly as possible, rather than let it establish its own trajectory.

Yet Vänskä's grasp of Sibelius's symphonic architecture remains matchless. The way the unfolding of the Seventh was controlled was an object lesson in how to navigate this most original of all 20th-century symphonies, while the support he and the LSO provided to Kavakos's wonderfully secure playing in the concerto was faultless. For all his technical brilliance, Kavakos is a self-effacing player; he never put a foot wrong here, and made his points with a minimum of fuss.