LSO/Davis, Barbican, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Increasingly these days, Sir Colin Davis seems to be weathering the elements of the music he conducts. At moments of crisis, he is King Lear defying the storm. The sinews strain, the heels dig in, the complexion turns ruddy. I doubt even Elgar would have envisaged the double-stopped opening "crunch" of his Introduction and Allegro for Strings sounding so implacable.

This is a bracing, open-air piece, but there's breezy and there's windy and for all the weightiness of their attack Sir Colin and the London Symphony strings seemed to be running out of puff. The ensemble, for instance, was not always what you would expect of them, though cellos and basses ensured sound anchorage in Elgar's "devil of a fugue". And since this performance was recorded for the orchestra's own LSO Live label, I imagine they'll want to patch the final chord which Davis held on to too long to be decisive. There seemed to be disagreement over the pizzicato pay-off, too. It isn't negotiable.

But there were more elements to be braved, and if Davis was King Lear, then Midori was Cordelia in their performance of Sibelius's Violin Concerto. She was characteristically strong-willed, a free spirit throughout - particularly in the opening measures where the remoteness of her dynamics lent an ethereal quality. There was space and freedom and there were very personal, pliant, phrasings. In the slow movement, her inwardness was affecting and we were all ears as she put it to rest, barely grazing the final glissando.

But Davis made no concession to her fragility of sound and manner and the number of strings alone put her in the eye of the storm. The outer movements threatened to consume her. And sometimes did.

There's a lot of Sibelius in the opening movement of Walton's First Symphony. Davis seemed well attuned to its moments of desolation. The melancholic duets for bassoon and viola, oboe and cello, caught my ear as they rarely do. Oddly, for Davis and this orchestra, it was these moments of repose and not the full-on primitivism that made the biggest impression.

Of course, the big-boned climaxes hit the mark - the brazen cortege crowning the first movement was suitably imposing. But I never felt we were going anywhere. It was the sense of momentum that I missed. The scherzo had teeth alright, the stopped horns bared them to threatening effect - but you wouldn't have to run very fast to be long gone by the time the beast rounded on you.