Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Colin Davis @ Barbican Hall, London

27 September 2006

The second concert in the LSO’s new season at the Barbican saw Colin Davis conduct a programme of three works, all by composers he’s closely associated with: Berlioz, Mozart and Sibelius.

In the second half of the concert, he showed once again what a winning combination he and the LSO are and why his staying on as President of the orchestra when Valery Gergiev takes over as Principal Conductor in January is such good news.

Even in a brief work like the Les Francs-Juges Overture, Davis can demonstrate why he is considered a great Berlioz conductor. The performance of the overture, perhaps not one of the composer’s most inspired works, was vibrant and thrilling and got the evening off to a fine start.

It seems that, last week, Evgeny Kissin gave an unconvincing performance with this orchestra and conductor of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. This week Kissin was not a lot better, giving a rather prosaic and plodding account of Mozart’s lovely Piano Concerto No. 24, K491. The LSO were on much better form than the soloist and carried over some of the vitality of the Berlioz. The serenade-like woodwind sections in the second movement were delightful.

After the interval, it was Sibelius’ Second Symphony that made this a memorable evening. Having heard Davis conduct the Third to Seventh Symphonies in this latest cycle of his, I was pleased to be able to hear the Second at last. It struck me that this is a work that probably sounds better when you’re young. As you get older, the exuberance of the piece and the climactic nature of the final movement seem rather shallow compared to the subtleties and depth of the stark and brilliant Sixth and Seventh. However, there’s much that’s attractive about the Second and it’s not surprising that it has for a long time ranked, along with the Fifth, as the most popular of Sibelius’ symphonies.

The tempi were generally fast and Davis, as so often, seemed to be trying to get every last drop out of the work. I was struck by the extraordinary sound of the pizzicati at the opening of the second movement, almost Wagnerian in feel. This was a fresh and exciting performance, maybe not quite like hearing it for the very first time but pretty close.

Having heard all but one of the Sibelius symphonies in this cycle, I’m pleased to say that this ranks along with the others, which can now be heard on the LSO Live label. If they come across as well on disc (or download) as they have in the concert hall, they are recordings well worth acquiring. The Seventh, in particular, I remember as a monumental performance. As last night’s concert was being recorded, I assume that this and the First Symphony from last week are destined to join them in a complete series.

Gergiev takes over in January but, as Principal Conductor for the past eleven years, Colin Davis has set the standard and I hope he will continue to appear with the orchestra for many years to come.

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