Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93 Benjamin
A Mind of Winter Mozart
Piano Concerto in A, K414
Valdine Anderson (soprano)
Radu Lupu (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
LSO/Colin Davis 4 December
Wednesday, December 04, 2002 Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
A concert in which small was beautiful and intimate expression spoke volumes. This pleasingly unhackneyed programme brought together Beethovens little Eighth Symphony, ending rather than beginning a concert, one of Mozarts lesser-known concertos and George Benjamins exquisite setting of Wallace Stevens.
Compared to Frans Brüggens way with Coriolan a few days earlier, Colin Daviss conducting of the opening measures might be thought explosive. As a microcosm of tragedy and lyrical import, Davis distilled contemporary relevance without endangering the overtures tight organisation. The Symphony was stately and warm with no lack of fist-like emphasis. Some of Daviss phrasal lingering maybe detoured away from the main journey but there was no doubting the coiling-up and release of tension. Davis appreciates Beethovens wit in the humorous take on the then-new metronome (second movement), and not least by not undermining the jocular first movement pay-off with a spurious rit. Select indeed are the conductors who achieve this. Best of all was the measured Finale: time given to hear melodic shapes with no diminution of energy.
By George!, the LSOs musical encounters with George Benjamin, runs through the 2002-3 season. A Mind of Winter is an 8-minute setting of Wallace Stevenss The Snow Man. Fragile and chilly sounds convey a lonely atmosphere and anguished sentiments. With each sound carefully crafted the sparing use of percussion, or muted trumpets (not least the piccolo member of the family) or bassoons (the boughs under the snow) Valdine Anderson was characteristically sympathetic as she weaved her mellifluous and angular lines as part of the orchestral fabric. Benjamins acute ear for sound makes the LSOs project one to follow keenly. The next By George! is on 2 February.
Radu Lupu and Colin Davis wonderful musical friends should ideally be together with the LSO every few months. After recent outstanding accounts of Brahmss D minor concerto, Lupu, who can summon power when he needs it, brought all his other wondrous qualities to Mozarts joyous A major concerto. After a graceful, silken-sounding introduction from the LSO, Lupu delighted the ear with a rare degree of subtlety and poeticism. For those who mistakenly listen with their eyes, Lupu must seem terribly laid-back. Yet his beguiling sound, his varied touch, his range of rainbow colours and discriminating dynamics get straight to the soul of the music and direct to the listener. Words do not do justice to Lupus alchemy. It is a privilege to hear him, for he re-defines what is possible on the piano. On this occasion, the flowing slow movement wafted from Olympus, the Finale was sublimely articulate, and the whole was graciously unspectacular while being pure magic.