Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Davis @ Barbican Hall, London

4 December 2011

With the continuation of both Colin Davis Nielsen Symphony Cycle and his and Mitsuko Uchidas Beethoven Piano Concerto series, concertgoers might feasibly have forgotten about the Haydn symphony that was scheduled to commence Sunday nights programme at the Barbican. So too, it seemed, did Davis and the LSO. It certainly wasnt the most auspicious of starts to a concert that was eventually redeemed by Uchidas captivating playing and Nielsens infectious and characterful Second Symphony.The playing in Haydns Symphony No. 98, one of the composers twelve London symphonies, wasnt always strictly together in the first two movements, nor was it especially inspiring. Davis gave a somewhat listless impression, although he was more forthright in his direction in the third movements boisterous Minuet. Haydns typical playfulness was perhaps most effectively exploited in the Finale, although the accompanying backdrop to the solo violins charming interjections might have been a bit more incisive.

A more arresting level of music making was reached only once Uchida had sat down at the piano for her performance of Beethovens Fourth Piano Concerto. Even in the seconds before she began to play, Uchida was seemingly able to capture the attention of the entire hall orchestra included. She did full justice, in other words, to Beethovens unconventional yet masterful choice of starting the whole piece with a poignant and simple chordal theme in the piano.

Part of Uchidas skill lies in her ability to give such a high degree of expression to the gestural breadth thats found in Beethovens music that it effectively turns into a piece of drama. Nowhere else might this be so starkly apparent as in the concertos second movement, with its exquisitely formed musical argument between soloist and orchestra. While the orchestral contributions were at times slightly too sober for my liking, Uchidas playing was soothing, persuasive and highly sensitive. It was the final movement, however, which boasted the best all round playing, with the orchestra and Davis (who timed the transition into the Rondo to perfection) engaging with Uchida on the terms she had plainly set out in the previous two movements.

On to Nielsen and his character symphony, which engages with the Ancient Greek notion that human emotional traits can be classified into four temperaments, or types: Choleric, Phlegmatic, Melancholic and Sanguine. Davis seemed to perk up a bit and this performance was simply splendid, particularly in the outer, more dynamic movements. The blissfully languorous, Phlegmatic second movement could have allowed for a bit more space and a greater feeling of relaxation following the impetuous and furiously energetic opening movement. It felt, at times, as if this movement couldnt quite rid itself of or forget about the symphonys Choleric opening. Not so in the third, however, in which the orchestra luxuriated in melancholia and tragedy, before giving way to the remarkably ebullient finale.

A stirring performance on the whole, which makes the prospect of Davis and Uchidas forthcoming performances of Nielsens Third and Beethovens Emperor Concerto all the more exciting.

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

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