It's taken me a while to warm up to the London Symphony Orchestra. I know that they're supposed to be the top orchestra in Britain at the moment, but I've always preferred the more intimate, family-like atmosphere that the Philharmonia exudes. There was a point when I was at the Royal Festival Hall so often that I started noticing when the flautists changed hairdos, and watched as the one cellist got more and more pregnant by the week and then disappeared. I finally realised what the problem was with the LSO: it's that by the time you get around to commuting to the Barbican from south-west London by tube and walking through the wind tunnel that leads to the Silk Street entrance, I'm in an irretrievably bad mood. Going to the Festival Hall is a few stops down the District Line, with any slack time easily taken up by a stroll along the South Bank, and a quick slurp at Wagamama before the doors open. Outside the Barbican is the City after hours, a post-apocalyptic wasteland where everything is shut and there are no taxis. Inside is the bare concrete madhouse maze from the decade of bad architecture, an overpriced cafe, and fairly rancid toilets.
But I was swayed by Sir Colin Davis's Sibelius 5 last October, when Arabella Steinbacher made her LSO debut; I was initially unimpressed by the idea of yet another lissome violinist making her mark with the predictable choice of the Beethoven violin concerto; but it was an above-average performance. And the Sibelius was nothing short of sublime. This evening I sat through a contemporary piece by a certain Helmut Lachenmann that no human being should be subjected to, those who have paid to be there. The payoff was Maurizio Pollini, who I decided I had better see before he shuffles off or retires in a wave of unobtainable tickets like Alfred Brendel. The sound that the LSO made in that space was at least as good as that of the Vienna Philharmonic I had heard there just a few months ago, and there was an arc of electricity that ran from the rich timbre of the strings to Pollini to Eötvos at the podium. It was a three star concert, and, as the Guide Michelin would say, vaut le detour.