I have come to realize that there are more second- and third-rate musicians in London than in Phoenix simply because there are more musicians altogether. In fact, I should have figured it out before: the presence of more first-rate musicians necessitates the stragglers.
Just such stragglers (the London Chamber Orchestra) performed a few nights ago at St John's Smith Square (a church near the Houses of Parliament in Westminster). The program included Beethoven's Violin Concerto (a legendary piece, averagely performed), a new piece by Graham Fitkin (nothing life-changing, but a good, pleasant piece), and Beethoven's Fourth Symphony, which was performed as clunkily as the Violin Concerto, but with an added bonus: the last movement was taken so ridiculously fast as to actually make it funny. For anyone keeping score, the last movement is marked Allegro ma non troppo (quick, but not too quick), and nothing could have made Beethoven's marking make more sense to me than to hear this absurd performance; the tempo was no non, all troppo. When the bassoon had a quick line, which should be both playful and playable, the player stumbled all over it (because no human bassoonist could possibly play it at that tempo) and I actually chuckled mid-performance.
In any case, it is nonetheless surprising that I would choose the Phoenix Symphony performances of both Beethoven pieces over those of the London Chamber Orchestra. Go figure.