Sinfonia concertante in E flat (K364) Haydn
Symphony No.100 in G Military
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
Wolfram Christ (viola)
English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis
ECO at the Barbican - 17 May
Thursday, May 17, 2001 Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Some of Colin Daviss earliest successes were with the ECO and Stravinsky; it was encouraging at this concert to find him returning to a composer who hes not featured too heavily in recent years. Its become latterly characteristic of Daviss concerts that scores new to him (or which he is returning to after quite an absence) have a freshness and involvement not always to be found in those works that are constants.
Davis led an engrossing account of Apollo, one absolutely attuned to its neo-classical demeanour. The baroque forms and black-and-white scoring (string orchestra) establishes the musics timeless parameters, the ECOs smallish body of strings ample in Apollos variation and ideal in numbers for the seraphic beauty of the pas de deux. Above all it was Daviss masterly whole-viewing of this 30-minute (his timing) ballet that so effectively underlined the birth-to-death scenario: Apollos arrival was innocent and gently questing; come his demise the same music was greyed with experience. The set-pieces were characterised by an integration of pulse that threw a line from the Baroque period over to the twentieth-century - double-dotting could be heard as syncopation, chorus (in the Greek sense) became a football chant and aria antique was a popular song; all examples of Stravinskys genius for making contemporary pre-ordained templates. Colin Davis proved a perceptive, unindulgent guide who relished the harmonic dissolve of music that doesnt emote or describe but intrinsically communicates a universal understanding.
Davis appreciates Haydns jokes too the brilliantly-timed pause before the first-movement development raised a smile; and he relished the foreshortened recapitulation (ideas return earlier than anticipated) caught you the composer says.
Allowing that the Barbican acoustic swallows certain middle-dynamic frequencies, which gives the impression that ensemble is less precise than it is, Haydns first movement could have been more comfortably articulated at a less hasty pace; the exposition repeat was tighter. If high spirits typified this Military, it didnt quite have the shaping and journeying of gesture that is echt-Haydn and makes him among the very greatest composers. It should also be said that No.100 is not, by Haydns exalted standards, among his pinnacles of ideas and experimentation the extra percussion suggests a divertissement, a passing dalliance, rather than an inimitable crafting of form and invention.
Tetzlaffs typical quicksilver and dashing way with Mozart informed K364, a standpoint anticipated but potentially at cross-purposes with Daviss more moulded and expressive Mozartian credentials. Both Davis and Wolfram Christ (replacing Tabea Zimmermann) accommodated Tetzlaff. I suspect Christ - a quite superb violist, dark-toned and intonationally beyond reproach would have liked more time than the harried outer movements allowed. Only the Heaven-sent slow movement really registered. If Tetzlaff lacked the deeper response of Christ and Davis, he justified the outer movements hurry in terms of his technique but not in fully realising the musics internalism and requirement to breathe.