LSO/Davis, Barbican Hall, London

Alarm bells at the LSO
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The Independent Culture

When the London Symphony Orchestra ended its Prom stint with a Beethoven Pastoral Symphony full of affection to the point of indulgence, it was easy to think of the orchestra relishing an acoustic that gave it some space. Back in its winter confines, the fierce bright sound was business as usual. The hall's refurbishments may look more suave – though the red/purple shades are a bit timid – but from a seat near the front they left the full-on acoustic intact.

Still, in its six-year partnership with Sir Colin Davis, as principal conductor, the LSO has worked out a mellowness of sorts. The season now under way has a settled look about it, not to say familiar, and in Mozart's K467 Piano Concerto with another old friend, Mitsuko Uchida, it rather sounded that way. Here were the expected energy and precision, but not the fire and intensity. All Mozart's music is a young man's music. He often composed his concertos at the last minute before he played them, and they sound all the more astonishing if you can hear the creative white heat.

The LSO and Davis can deliver it when they want, especially in French music. It's fascinating that their Berlioz has got hotter and hotter, even while their Mozart and Beethoven have aged. They had also produced at full strength for Sibelius's Oceanides in the same Prom, and they did it again on Sunday for the Symphony No 1 by Elgar. Once past the opening plod (Elgar's plod, not the players'), this performance had the pace and drive that could form the music's ever-shifting character into a powerful and cohesive whole. Davis caught the restlessness at its heart, holding dark and light moods in a fine balance and progressing firmly towards the gradual settling-down that occurs towards the end of each movement.

The scherzo's sudden shifts between brutal march and quiet idyll occurred without losing momentum, until the finely timed wind-down towards the slow sequel. Late Beethoven meets Schumann here, or at least it does when the conductor allows the juicier moments to speak for themselves and inspires a quiet, inner concentration at the end. The finale's more unlikely fusions – elements of Brahms No 3 and César Franck now – benefited from the steady pulse, expanding a little for the music's visions of fulfilment and charging exuberantly towards the end.

Recorded live for the LSO's CD label, the Elgar made a strong start to the Davis survey of his symphonies which continues this autumn. It may be one of the best things in the next couple of years, since the programmes have an unexpected been-here-before look about them: Mutter plays Mozart, another Rostropovich festival, another Boulez series. There's nothing new and virtually nothing contemporary in this autumn's programme. Instead, the LSO has come up with some fresh logos and a programme cover that looks like Posh Spice trying ballet. Resting on laurels is not its usual style, but the signs are starting to gather that in a year or two's time it will need a wake-up call.