LSO/Davis/Kissin, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

He may just have turned 80, but the spirit of rebellion has not died in Sir Colin Davis. He seems to identify more now with Beethoven, the revolutionary, than he did when he was a younger man. The emphatic chords marking out the territory of both the Third Piano Concerto and the Symphony No 3 "Eroica" were not to be trifled with. The sound may have been big and well upholstered, but there wasn't an ounce of fat on it. This concert pumped iron.

Evgeny Kissin was the soloist in the C minor concerto, and his concentration and sense of purpose were such that he seemed rigorous even in repose. Kissin has to my mind lacked that deeper sense of engagement of late, so to see and hear and feel him searching so diligently for the subtext of these notes was extraordinarily satisfying. We can take for granted his strong and articulate fingers, his jaw-dropping accuracy and fabulously precise rhythmic sense, but I don't think I've ever heard Kissin listen so intently.

There were accompanying passages here – such as the sequence of supporting arpeggios in the slow movement – that threw up all manner of harmonic revelations. At one point in the first movement, it was as if he was suddenly an extension of the furtive woodwind colourations. The touch of madness in the music chimed so completely with Kissin's otherworldliness.

Now, more than ever, Davis conducts the "Eroica" like he can change the world with it. The fervent revolutionary is emblazoned on every defiant tremolando, every trumpet-topped tutti; harmonic anomalies are flung down like challenges. Yes, the relationship between woodwind and strings is still weighted in the latter's favour, to the detriment sometimes of Beethoven's inner voices. But the excitement now stems from Davis's complete abandon to the spirit of radicalism that this work embodies. He's become the superannuated superhero for whom no holds are barred and to watch him and Gordan Nikolitch, the LSO's inspirational leader, drive this music to certain victory is hugely exhilarating. You feel now that Davis has earned that victory.

The great fugue of the second movement funeral march still digs deep for answers, of course, but the abandon with which he and his orchestra can now despatch the celebratory "Hungarian" variation in the finale makes it harder to stay in one's seat.

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