Bohemian Spring – 22nd April

Glagolitic Mass
Symphony No.8

Andrea Dankova (soprano)
Marina Domashenko (contralto)
Sergej Larin (tenor)
Alastair Miles (bass)
Catherine Edwards (organ)

London Symphony Chorus & Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: David Wordsworth

Reviewed: 22 April, 2001
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

This concert closed the LSO’s Bohemian Spring series, one bringing some fine concerts in terms of the quality of the music-making, but one that missed a chance to highlight more unusual repertoire rather than the well-worn: Dvorak 8 and Cello Concerto AGAIN. Even Janacek’s music is no longer a rarity in the concert halls. Great works though these are, it would have been nice to hear Fibich or Novak, perhaps Dusek or Vorisek, and more than the paltry ten minutes of music by a living composer – Petr Eben’s Prager Te Deum. Eben is a marvellous composer and should have warranted more attention. If as great an orchestra as the LSO is not prepared to take risks, then what hope can there be for anyone else?

Having said all that, when sat in the hall, with LSO-playing as fine as it always is, one can almost forget any quibbles one mighthave about repertoire. The sheer energy and fire behind this performance of Glagolitic Mass brought well deserved cheers at the end, not least for the excellent chorus who spat out the Slavic text incisively and with a rare confidence, relishing the not inconsiderable difficulties that this remarkable, but not always the most practical, composer presents them with. Catherine Edwards made the most she could of the exuberant organ solos – but the feeble electronic instrument she was given didn’t make life very easy for her. Of the soloists – Marina Domashenko andAlistair Miles contributed their few bars well; the lion’s share falls to the soprano and tenor – Andrea Dankova and Serej Larin both threw-off their high, exposed lines with ease. Larin’s ringing tenorsuits Janacek perfectly; not a particularly beautiful sound, rather heroic and passionate in equal proportions.

As far as Sir Colin is concerned, I stand corrected. Before this (and Taras Bulba on March 25) I would have thought him one of the last conductors to be associated with Janacek – I was rather afraid that he would make him too tidy, too polite. Sir Colin has hidden depths – this Glagolitic Mass was wonderful.

What a contrast with Dvorak’s sunniest symphony! Because the composer fell out with his original publisher, this work was sold to Novello in London and so became known, in some quarters as “The English”, which is singularly unhelpful as this is the composer’s most Bohemian, and in some ways, most Schubertian symphony. It is full of haunting tunes and rustic woodwind writing. The LSO have played this work several times in recent seasons and clearly have it in their blood now – the cello section, in particular, poured their hearts into the glorious melody opening the symphony; the whole woodwind section deserves praise.

Sir Colin did not use all his energy in the first half and whipped up the closing pages to produce an exhilarating finish. He clearly loves this work but … I do wish he would get out of the now intrusive habit of singing along with the big tunes. Sitting a good way back in the stalls it was clearly audible, nearer the front it must be maddening.

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