Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Davis @ Barbican Hall, London

20 March 2011

This London Symphony Orchestra concert ended up being rather different to the one advertised at the beginning of the season. First of all, Michael Tilson Thomas had to withdraw after being asked to lead the YouTube Symphony Orchestra in Sydney on the same date. As a result, Sir Colin Davis took over, bringing a programme of Stravinsky and Beethoven rather than the Ives and Strauss works originally planned. Only Strausss Four Last Songs survived from the original programme, scheduled to be sung by the soprano Elza van den Heever. As it turned out, van den Heever also had to withdraw from the concert and was replaced at short notice by Sally Matthews.

Sir Colin rarely conducts Richard Strauss, and this account of the Four Last Songs suggested a lack of empathy with the composer. Although the playing of the LSO was exemplary, the performance lacked rapture and momentum, not helped by the extremely slow tempi of the first three songs. Sally Matthewss interpretation was marked by sensitivity to colour and phrasing, but her singing wasnt helped by the ponderous tempo, and the result was often too quiet in relation to the orchestra.

The opening work, Stravinskys Symphony in Three Movements, was more suited to Sir Colins style, and this was a performance of stature. With spacious tempi throughout, the distinctive piano dominated rhythms of the first movement sounded relentless rather than exciting, but fitting for a work composed during the World War II. The second movement benefited from the fine solo playing of the LSO, with an occasional hint of Sibelius. The finale once again brought reminiscences of wartime, the inner workings of the music clarified by the vivid orchestral playing.

The concert concluded with an account of Beethovens Sixth Symphony that ignored current ideas about historically informed practice, the orchestra fielding a full complement of players, with first and second violins together on the left and no fewer than eight double basses. Although the Sixth Symphony lends itself to both modern and period performance practice, here the orchestral balance masked woodwinds and even brass instruments during tutti passages, lessening the impact, although there was no lack of volume during the fourth movement storm. With unexceptional tempi throughout, this was a pleasant performance to listen to, but not one which lingers in the memory.

Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk

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