LSO / Colin Davis, Barbican, London
Wednesday 09 February 2005
To thoroughly misquote Mark Twain, rumours of the death of classical music have been grossly exaggerated.
To thoroughly misquote Mark Twain, rumours of the death of classical music have been grossly exaggerated. But anyone who'd listened to BBC Radio 3's Music Matters discussion on Sunday on the fate of classical music - or, more precisely, classical-music criticism - would have been forgiven their surprise in discovering a huge crowd at the Barbican for the evening's concert. And many of them were young.
Classical music is currently suffering a mega-bout of jitters in this country. It's the British disease: undermine that which you do best. And how dangerous it is: prophecies have a way of fulfilling themselves.
The LSO's concert was a triumph in (almost) every way. Their hugely enterprising Ambassador scheme, very much on view, encourages the young to find the young, allowing any bone fide student a ticket to certain concerts for £4.50 providing they text in their request. So this felt like a family concert; not so much for families but as a family, the siblings and cousins strutting their stuff to each other and to the young outsiders, all under the wonderfully wise guidance of Papa Colin Davis. It is the orchestra's centenary year, and nothing could display better the extraordinary level of the LSO's players than letting them individually take centre stage.
Karl Jenkins's Quirk, receiving its world premiere, is the third of the LSO's four centenary commissions. These are the result of particular section-principals nominating the composer of their choice. Jenkins's three-movement work, a triple concerto for flute, percussion and keyboards, was expertly played by principals Gareth Davies, Neil Percy and John Alley. From the composer of Adiemus, it's soft-centred stuff, superbly written technically, totally approachable, and skilfully empty. The crowd loved it.
Haydn's Symphony No 72 - quite probably written long before this late-ish numbering might indicate - is a show-off piece; the Esterhazy orchestra had just had their number of horns doubled. The LSO's four were in fine fettle, even if, despite valves, the taming of these creatures is woefully difficult.
The slow movement had Carmine Lauri, concert-master for the evening, and Martin Parry, sub-principal flute, duetting elegantly; the last movement's variations again featured solo flute, violin and cello (with fine playing from Moray Welsh) and a double-bass variation, spectacularly performed by Rinat Ibragimov.
But pride of place goes to the LSO's "normal" concert-master, Gordan Nikolitch, whose performance as soloist in Brahms's Violin Concerto was simply titanic. Unsurprisingly, there was a palpable sense of support and togetherness from the orchestra and Sir Colin, who established broad, spacious tempi that gave Nikolitch ample space to give his enormously passionate reading. It was exhilarating, the thunderous applause absolutely right. Who says classical music's dead?
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