At the Barbican on Sunday, Sir Colin Davis conducted the London Symphony Orchestra with the utmost care for Bruckner's dynamic markings and also an unflinching grasp of contrasted tempi, which are juggled from section to section within a movement, and have to be spot-on. Davis's pace in the slow movement, which is marked "very slow" at two-in-a-bar, was not unusually slow, but it could perhaps have moved just a fraction more easily, to put the opening pizzicato triplets more clearly in their place as counterpoint (in the following movement they are speeded up to become the driving force of a scherzo).
That's a matter of personal preference, and the important thing is that the foreground occupied by the woodwind was accurately balanced. The strings sounded good and delivered some real sit-up-and-listen pianissimi. Davis still favours an arrangement with second violins behind the first, which tended to obscure their exchanges of prominence - sometimes, when the seconds should have been louder, they were not heard enough. But although the Barbican acoustic has been greatly improved, it is still rather absorbent, and in the finale it soaked up the pugnacious counterpoint among woodwind and brass like blotting-paper. Perhaps that's why this excellent performance, whose immaculate finish was only marred by gremlins from the principal horn in the first movement, failed to be overwhelming.
Bruckner's Fifth was here prefaced by Mozart's Symphony No 39. This work may, despite the passionate outbursts in its slow movement, be the most urbane of the composer's final trio of symphonies - it certainly sounded so here. The Rolls-Royce among London's orchestras cruised through it comfortably, unperturbed by Sir Colin's pummelings on the rostrum.
n Next concert in the series (Mozart Symphony No 41, Bruckner Requiem), Sunday 7.30pm Barbican, EC1 (0171-638 8891)Reuse content