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Show caption Imposing … Simon Rattle conducts the London Symphony Orchestra. Photograph: Mark Allan

Classical music

Barbican, London Simon Rattle once again showed his affinity with Haydn before a distinct second half featuring a London premiere of John Adams and extrovert Gershwin works

Mon 13 Jun 2022 11.23 BST

In his years with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle showed he had a real affinity with the symphonies of Haydn. More recently, we have heard less of him in that composer, but he began his latest appearance with the London Symphony Orchestra with one of the six symphonies that Haydn wrote for performances in Paris in 1786-87, No 86 in D major. With trumpets and timpani in the scoring, it’s one of the most imposing of the Paris set, but typically Rattle’s performance, always lithe and energised, belied anything grandiose about the music. He instead emphasised its quiet good humour, just as in Mozart’s B flat Piano Concerto K456, with Imogen Cooper as the soloist, it was the music’s elegance that came across most obviously, despite the occasional splashy moment.

This was, though, a concert of two very distinct halves, and after the interval the LSO’s forces doubled in number for works by John Adams and George Gershwin. The Adams was a London premiere: I Still Dance is an eight-minute workout for large orchestra, composed in 2019. Its rippling G minor arpeggios, cross-cut with increasingly insistent stabbing interventions, seem to have a distant relationship with Bach, but in other respects it seems more like a piece of self-reflection, looking back to Adams’s music of the 1980s, the time of Nixon in China and, especially in this case, of Short Ride in a Fast Machine. The extrovert Gershwin works that framed it were the Cuban Overture, full of Latin rhythms and lashings of exotic percussion, and An American in Paris, which provided the LSO’s woodwind and brass with plenty of opportunities for moments of bluesy indulgence as well as some convincingly transatlantic glitz.

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