European Academies' SO / Davis, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

This curious bit of cultural collaboration had a tidy-minded symmetry. Made up of students from three conservatoires - the Guildhall in London, the Sibelius Academy in London and the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna - the one-off European Academies' Symphony Orchestra played a work from each of the three respective countries, under a conductor whose reputation is duly grounded in Elgar, Sibelius and Mozart.

None of Sir Colin Davis's beloved Berlioz; and French and Latin names looked absent from the list too, even though it otherwise reflected the current internationalism of the music college world, with a notable contingent of Asians.

Its debut defied the widespread fear that with all their cross-border employment, orchestras are getting the same everywhere. From the start it had a sound of its own, dark in timbre and founded on a magnificent string section in which the violin tone was the determining factor. Lower woodwind were stronger than upper, though technique and ensemble were impeccable.

Thorough rehearsal had paid off, and the detail of phrasing was a delight, but the first three movements of Mozart's Jupiter Symphony saw Davis apparently off in some dream universe of private bliss, at a broad pace that allowed every passing beauty to be savoured at length, while ordinary mortals around him were finding it all very sedate. With the finale everybody woke up, and the missing energy and fire and powerful, carefully judged accents arrived in force.

They remained for a thoroughly symphonic delivery of Elgar's Enigma Variations where cumulative effect decided the approach to each variation as much as individual character.

Trombones rose to the occasion in Sibelius's Seventh Symphony, with another fine solo from the Guildhall's Amy Wetmore. The orchestra's timbre was perfect in the opening, especially with such precise chording from the lower strings. Davis had the music pushing against the tempo fairly early, then broadening at moments of climax. This strategy made for a thrilling, intense conclusion.

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