Symphony in Three Movements
Four Last Songs
Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)
Sally Matthews (soprano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Barbican Hall, London
Sunday, March 20, 2011
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The opening of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements (completed in 1945) here had venom and point. Sir Colin Davis may not have hit the ‘Crotchet = 160’ tempo marking (he was nearer to it in his explosive LSO recording from more than forty years ago) but there was a clarity of pulse and detailing, with rhythmic pick-ups spot-on, that drove the music along, reminding of the score’s wartime inspiration as well as satisfying its purely musical argument. The middle movement enjoyed buoyant patterns and seraphic lines, and the finale was concentrated in its fury to a powerful conclusion, but with room for characterisation along the way. John Alley and Karen Vaughan respectively illuminated the important piano and harp parts.
It was a shame that illness prevented Elza van den Heever from making her London debut. Retaining Richard Strauss’s “Four Last Songs”, Sally Matthews was a notable replacement. Maybe she somewhat forced her voice to soar, and the impromptu element was understandable ... but towards the end of the second setting, ‘September’, something magical if indefinable happened, capped by David Pyatt’s mellifluous horn solo. A door had been opened to Matthews’s particular way with this music, and her glancing confidence in Sir Colin’s attentive conducting was all about having trust in him, the LSO gifting a sensitive accompaniment. Roman Simovic offered a serene violin contribution in ‘Beim Schlafengehen’ (Going to Sleep) and ‘Im Abendrot’ (At Sunset) was transporting as well as enhanced by the flutes’ birdsong. Although silence was the only possible response, someone applauded far too soon (as they would also do after the Beethoven).
Sir Colin may take advantage of a chair these days (although his walk to and from the podium is as vigorous as ever), but that is only a concern for the eye, for the ear, heart and mind received a ‘Pastoral’ Symphony of ‘twinkle in the eye’ freshness, earthy and rejuvenating (strings at full strength), with a ‘Scene by the Brook’ that flowed gently, placidly expressed, and with wonderfully hushed playing at times. The finale was vivid in its rejoicing and touching in its soulful benediction. It was surprising that Davis omitted the exposition repeat of the first movement, yet this seemed apposite in the context of a forward-moving, going-somewhere performance, given with devotion. In short, this without-dogma, with-ardour, wise, experienced and, above all, young-at-heart account was a real tonic.