Daniel Harding was due to conduct the LSO in two concerts at the Barbican, each devoted to a single Czech composer: Dvořák and then Janáček. In the event illness kept him from the first of these (11th October) and his place was taken by the orchestra’s assistant conductor, Michal Dworzynski. The prospect of hearing Harding conduct Dvořák had been an intriguing one, since it was far from obvious how the musical personalities of conductor and composer would mesh (and in that respect at least, the Janáček evening seemed a much safer bet). In fact the main draw was the chance to hear Pierre-Laurent Aimard in Dvořák’s Piano Concerto. Aimard, of course, is best known as a hugely persuasive advocate of contemporary music, and for a long time he seemed to be invited to play little else. In recent years, however, he has been able to extend his concert repertoire to show that the keen musical imagination and secure technique that have enabled him to attract new audiences to Ligeti and Boulez also make him an exceptionally interesting interpreter of classical and romantic works. Just as there are many who would have remained cold to the musical avant-garde had they not been introduced to it by hearing Aimard, so there must be more than a few avant-gardistes he has now bought to Dvořák.
If few pianists have the Dvořák concerto in their repertoire, even fewer conductors do, and it would have been to Dworzynski’s credit that he was up to conducting it at short notice had the results been no more than competent. As it was, the performance was staggeringly good – indeed, in the same league as that of the eighth symphony which followed after the interval, and to say that is high praise indeed. I confess that I had not heard of Dworzynski before the announcement that he was to replace Harding, even though this is his second year in post, which he took up after winning the Donatella Flick conducting competition in October 2006. On the strength of this concert, at least, I will be more excited to hear the LSO under the baton of this Polish 28 year-old than under those of its various principle conductors.
Certainly the orchestra responded to him as I have heard them do to few others. Throughout their playing a combination of beauty, alertness, and flexibility that was really quite special.…