Colin Davis conducts Sibelius 4 at Royal Academy of Music

Symphony No.4 in A minor, Op.63

Academy Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 17 February, 2012
Venue: Dukes Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London

What has Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony in common with London buses? After a long wait not one but two come together!

Sir Colin Davis. Photograph: Alberto Venzago / LSOHence Sir Colin Davis rehearsed and performed this work with the young musicians at the Royal Academy of Music. What should come before and after this Nordic beauty? On this evidence: absolutely nothing. It stands alone without needing any supporting structure.

Whereas in a week’s time the BBC Symphony Orchestra continues its Sibelius cycle with the Fourth, under a conductor of considerably younger than Sir Colin, Kirill Karabits. It will be his first attempt at this colossus.

Was it Sir Colin’s idea to perform this particular work? “No, I was asked to do it”. Bravo to the Royal Academy of Music for inviting this great Sibelian to impart his wisdom of this work to the emerging generation of performers.

Sir Colin made claim to Sibelian credentials many decades ago. Now he teaches patience, to take the long game, elongating the two slow movements to demonstrate the huge harmonic tensions in the music. This is, after all, a deeply disturbing work, where stability is constantly undermined by the composer’s deliberate decision to incorporate the tritone from the very beginning.

Sir Colin achieved a performance in which the balance between stability and instability was emphasised in extremis. A peculiar darkness reigned so that the end came as a merciful release from the tribulations heard earlier.

Sibelius wrote: “My Fourth Symphony is not a concert work but it has bought me many friends.” John Drummond remarked, when in charge of the Proms, that he could not find a conductor willing to perform this work. Matters have changed little. The Fourth remains exiled there. Why not invite one of the greatest Sibelius conductors – Sir Colin – to play this work and bring enlightenment on our human condition to, no doubt, a capacity audience and millions of listeners at home?

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