Penny Homer, Bachtrack, 7th February 2014

“…The pairing of Dvořák and Panufnik is perhaps explained by their nationalism, although both composers framed it in different ways. Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony is subtitled “From the New World”, as if looking across to his Czech homeland from New York. It is only really in the second movement that one gets a feeling of the American countryside.

Francis and the orchestra seemed more at home here, with more attention paid to the subtleties within the piece. The ensemble tripped slightly in the opening movement, but the expansive drama was thoroughly realised. The cor anglais solo in the second movement felt like a warm bath, and the pared down sextet restating the theme towards the end was exquisite, although some of the tempo changes were a little clumsy. There was a lively, folkish quality to the third movement, while the march of the fourth movement was wonderfully bombastic. A little Americana was brought out in the smooth clarinet solo, which had shades of Gershwin in it, before returning us squarely to Europe as a myriad of themes exhausted themselves into one final chord.

The highlight of the evening was Lullaby, an extraordinary beautiful string piece that was decades ahead of its time…The orchestra is divided so that each instrument has an entirely individual part, including different tunings and use of microtones underneath a Polish peasant song, which passes from section to section. It is deceptively simple in its construction, and yet fiendishly difficult to bring to life.

The LSO captured the piece’s haunting, broken-music-box quality, sounding at once totally contemporary and like a child’s lullaby. Aside from a few slightly heavy moments in the solo melody instruments, the deft performance was utterly entrancing…”