Antonio Pappano is a resolutely theatrical conductor. There's no denying that the hours spent in the orchestra pit have coloured the way he conducts in the concert hall. And it's a great thing, though he has to pick his repertoire carefully; Pappano is not for all markets. This week he and the LSO really found their niche, bringing fire to Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky and Lutosławski with performances demanding high virtuosity, which the LSO delivered without hesitation.

Thursday evening's account of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto proved an auspicious opener. Christian Tetzlaff opened with a moderato that was both intimate and intense – matched in his whispered Bach encore. Yet he also had a caustic edge, providing snap and punctuation to Shostakovich's increasingly biting narrative. Occasionally Pappano's sweeping gestures fail to serve such microscopic precision, though they nonetheless elicit unbridled playing when it is required.

Without the catalyst of Tetzlaff, Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony sounded too generalised. Given the Classical hallmarks of the work – like Mahler and Shostakovich's Fifth Symphonies, Tchaikovsky harks back to Beethoven – Pappano created a permanently blowsy forte. There were superb solos from individual members of the LSO – the woodwind section is in particularly fine health – but they were too often buried in treacly strings. This constantly luscious state robbed the work of inherent tension and the breakthrough in the finale, akin to Brahms's First Symphony, felt underpowered.

The second programme – Lutosławski's Concerto for Orchestra and Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony – was more balanced. Pappano had something important to say about both scores and the LSO really raised its game. Surprisingly, given the showcasing potential of Lutosławski's 1954 orchestral work, Pappano and the players never overplayed (as they had on Thursday). Texture rather than dazzling colour was key here, though Pappano could unleash truly dazzling climaxes when he had too. As before, some of the phrasing lacked pinpoint precision, but Pappano achieved great clarity within Lutosławski's multifaceted score with simultaneous echoes, as my companion noted, of Britten, Bartók and Bernard Herrmann.

Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony is, potentially, a more bombastic work than the Fifth. But after Pappano's rather orotund performance of the Fifth, he proffered something much more subtle here. Yes there were deafening salvos – are the LSO trumpets becoming a little too American in style? – and the return of fatalistic fanfares were suitably resonant, but the first subject was bruised, whispered even. Throughout echoes of Swan Lake and Eugene Onegin were forefront in the mind as Pappano allowed a much fuller narrative to unfold.

The slow movement spoke of hesitation and questioning, with the bassoon and clarinet sensitively answering each other's phrasing. The Scherzo had wit, recalling the tartness of Thursday night's Shostakovich. But, when the finale finally burst through, Pappano and the orchestra responded with a no-holds-barred approach. Teetering on the dangerous, this rapid attack felt entirely justified within the context of such a sensitive reading and it provided a fitting conclusion to a largely thrilling pair of concerts.  

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