Classical :LSO Bruckner/ Mozart Series Barbican, London

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Sir Colin Davis's account of Bruckner's Symphony No 0 had barely begun when a man opened the Evening Standard and began reading. That bad, huh? Bruckner thought so. "Only an attempt - totally invalid," he dismissively wrote on the score. And yet, in terms of our understanding of him, this early D minor Symphony is rather more than one big zero.

It was a grand plan. But the markers were already down. The scale of the gestures, the apposition of simple truths and awesome, elemental, judgemental, massed-band effects. The breadth, if not yet the sureness, of the argument. Those of us who know and love Bruckner recognise the signs. There are amusing anomalies in the scherzo and finale - a suggestion, in one instance, of some meddling with Rossini. But from a first movement so clumsily stitched it has you anticipating a radical reinvention of symphonic form, comes a second subject - a limpid, singing melody for violins - that is at once the shape of things to come: the moment in every symphony where loftier pursuits take a breather and the heart truly comes into play. Then the advent of the slow movement as an act of faith. This one has the strings pose questions, and the woodwinds tender some answers. It isn't shaped with much certainty as to where it is going, but it does end with a memorable assertion that the whole process might begin again - and again. An eternal "silence" is born out of high violins and low string basses - a uniquely Brucknerian sonority in the making.

Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony took hold of that with a relish which said "this thing is bigger than all of us - lead on". And a week later they did. To the Seventh Symphony, surely the unassailable masterpiece of the canon, though I have to say that for me Davis had not yet "attained the ascendancy". There was a clue in the exposition of that luminous first theme - cellos and solo horn from a mist of violins. It was at once too "present" to convey that deep sense of spiritual revelation. I'm not suggesting a return to the pious image of Bruckner that for so long dogged his reputation. Far from it. I like the fact that Davis's Bruckner is a man of the world - tough, gruff, and ardent. If ever music were born of the elements, born to dance, Davis's trumpet-led scherzo was. But while the superstructure of his reading was always impressive and often gravely beautiful (the threnody of Wagner tubas duly instilling awe), something in the subtext wasn't engaging. Moments of stasis were for me never quite far-reaching enough, the proud evolution of the codas to the outer movements somehow lacking that overwhelming sense of fulfilment. Bruckner should never leave you feeling hungry.

On paper, Mozart should have made for the happiest of bedfellows throughout this series. In practice, these concerts gave us precious little to smile about. In the first, Anne-Sophie Mutter - playing Violin Concerto No 5 - reaffirmed her luxury status. Meaning that there was something untouchable, even narcissistic, about the way she consistently spun silk where cotton might have been more appropriate. Mozart? Ravel, more like. Thursday's performance of the evergreen Sinfonia Concertante in E flat for violin and viola was frightful, sabotaged by a violinist, Dmitri Vassiliev, whose snatched phrasing and toe-curling intonation infected all around him. Yes, even a violist like Yuri Bashmet.

EDWARD SECKERSON

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