LSO/Davis/Uchida, Barbican, London
Wednesday 28 September 2005
To a packed Barbican, Colin Davis thrashed the opening of Elgar's Introduction and Allegro, producing an enormous volume of raw tone from the LSO's string section. But Elgar cunningly employs a quartet to offset the volume and colour of the full strings, and it was with a touching tenderness of sound that the Leader, Gordan Nikolitch, led his solo colleagues. The music of the Introduction ebbs and flows emotionally, Davis encouraging an edgy sound. Even in Elgar's startling contrapuntal writing, its very strength is tinged with melancholic uncertainty - an ambiguity Davis so subtly pointed.
For ambiguity of feeling, there is surely no other composer who embraces this more fully than Schumann. And in the hands of Mitsuko Uchida his piano concerto, written for his wife, may have the ideal modern soloist. Uchida brings out the fragility, the femininity, of this exquisite concerto. From the opening, Uchida characterised her performance by long, lingering phrasing, capturing the intimacy and yearning but maintaining a sense of wonder as she unfolded her notes. In the Intermezzo, there was fine chamber-music-making as the thematic baton passed between soloist and orchestra. And in the exuberant finale, nothing was overblown, Uchida's touch flowing and silky. If there was the odd near-miss in ensemble between soloist and orchestra, this was a concerto delivered lovingly and in the right proportions.
For Walton's mighty First Symphony the full strength of the orchestra was finally on show. The clicking of bow sticks at the beginning emphasised the nervous rhythmic motif of the first movement. The second movement is styled con malizia, but this could as easily be a marking for the first, thematic material swinging ambiguously between the benign and malign. The tense, terse second movement recalls Beethoven and Shostakovich, with angular rhythms and a shrill intensity. Bleakness inhabits the slow movement, the LSO's remarkable Principal flute sadly intoning over the throbbing accompaniment. And in the final movement, ambiguity is writ large: is it cheerful or menacing? Davis seemed to reign in his forces, the brass less brittle, the performance solid rather than brilliant.
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