Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Davis @ Barbican Hall, London

11 December 2011

The LSO and Colin Davis reunited with Mitsuko Uchida on Sunday night for the finale of her Beethoven Piano Concertos series, with Davis also bringing a riveting close to his Nielsen symphony cycle. First up, however, and following on from last weeks programming, was another Haydn London symphony, this time No. 93 in D major. From the very outset this performance revealed just the sort of immediacy and nuance that had been missing in the LSOs performance of No. 98 two Sundays ago. While the opening movement demonstrated a compelling balance of restraint and drama, I felt the Largo that followed could have relaxed a bit more. On the other hand, the vigorous and richly scored minuet in the third movement seemed almost too restrained, while the finale definitely approached that necessary sense of urgency.

In their previous meeting one Sunday earlier, it fell to Uchida to salvage a slightly lacklustre opening performance of the Haydn through some truly inspiring playing. This time, the ever enthralling pianist was allowed to bring the whole concert to a close, with the first half ending instead with a performance of Nielsens Third Symphony. This is a somewhat different animal to the Second Symphony that came a week earlier: bold, strident and drawn out. The very opening, however, seems to have something else in mind, with its accelerating repeated-note motif building to an almost delusional intensity.

For the most part the opening Allegro was very well articulated, but the intensity of the opening was (perhaps inevitably) not sustained. The same criticism might be made of the rest of the symphony, but on the other hand the LSO did boast some remarkably sensitive, measured and occasionally opulent playing. The second movement was well harnessed by Davis and never overly indulgent at the expense of the musical pacing. The third was equally well paced but perhaps lacking in urgency, while the finale seemed at last to find a genuinely compelling combination of majestic playing in the longer phrases together with a mighty sense of animation and vitality.

Following on from her performance of Beethovens Fourth Piano Concerto, I never expected Uchidas interpretation of the Emperor to be anything less than mesmerizing, and I wasnt disappointed. The opening Allegro never let up in pace (occasionally I was surprised by just how quick it sounded) and exhibited a truly superb range in dynamic contrast. The second movement initially seemed quite caught up in the excitement of the first and could have done with a touch more breathing space, but on the whole Davis and Uchidas pacing of the Adagio was exquisitely judged throughout. The Rondo was vivacious, and the level of reciprocity between soloist and orchestra was always captivating. Indeed, one of the things I enjoy most about watching Uchida play is her attentiveness, which becomes so evident in her interpretation. This whole concert, in fact, breathed with life, and just about managed to dispel any signs of stuffiness that occasionally impacted upon the LSOs previous offering of Haydn/Beethoven/Nielsen. It was all the better, perhaps, for letting Uchida have the final word.

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

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