CLASSICAL REVIEW: LSO / TILSON THOMAS Barbican Hall London

Article excerpt

History has a habit of applying a little subtext of its own to composers' final utterances. Last works become last wills and testaments regardless of their circumstances. We all like to play the dangerous game of second-guessing creative genius in its final throes. In the introduction to his current series - Last Works - with the London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas clearly doesn't try to do so but rather to show that the one thing all the works had in common was a search for resolution. The music should tell us to what extent they succeeded. And whether the business was unfinished when the candle finally went out.

Ruth Crawford Seeger was arguably the most radical - and unsung - American between Charles Ives and Elliott Carter. That's quite a space to fill. Her Andante for Strings (1938) - an arrangement of a String Quartet movement written some years earlier - was a telling way to start any of the concerts in this series. The effect of it is like a series of expressive but isolated notes striving to connect in some meaningful way - when all the time they are meaningful exactly the way they are.

Seeger had plainly heard the Berg Violin Concerto. The connections made in this piece are as logical and meaningful as any in 20th-century music, yet they still elude people, because you need to listen to hear. Here's a piece about the loss of innocence. Literally. Berg dedicated it "To the memory of an angel" - namely Manon, the 18-year-old daughter of Alma Mahler by her second marriage, to the architect Walter Gropius. But it's as much about Berg's search to find a balance between expression and the means to it. …