European Academies’ Symphony Orchestra

Mozart
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)
Elgar
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36
Sibelius
Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105

European Academies’ Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis


Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 14 April, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Drawing young players from three of the world’s finest music institutions – the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the Sibelius Academy Finland, and the University of Music & Performing Arts Vienna – Sir Colin Davis began this three-concert tour at the Barbican before travelling to Lahti (April 17) and Vienna (19, Musikverein). I believe Lahti was preferred to Helsinki due to the qualities of the now 5-year-old Sibelius Hall, generously funded by the Lahti city fathers.

Three iconic national works were chosen, two illustrating the highest level of symphonic in Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony and Sibelius’s Seventh, the last word on the symphony by each composer. In between came Elgar’s most famous work, Enigma Variations, which even a Viennese audience might be aware of and certainly the one work by Elgar to receive an airing in Finland.

The concert itself was a curate’s egg. The first half lacked what Leopold Stokowski called “love”. Everybody was too serious, too afraid of making mistakes (hence there were a few, particularly in the woodwind) and the music suffered. In taking the Jupiter’s first movement exposition repeat, Sir Colin allowed the players to settle into a routine. Only in the joyous finale did the orchestra come alive, playing with sincerity and feeling.

We heard Elgar rather than Tippett in his centenary year. The concert begged for something more modern, so why not Tippett’s Concerto for orchestra, which Sir Colin premiered forty or so years ago? We heard the ubiquitous Enigma Variations, which culminated in a rather vulgar finale, the brass being too loud.

After the interval, however, Sibelius’s Seventh, this wonderful symphonic apotheosis, received a performance of passionate conviction that comes only from Colin Davis. Hence here was an interpretation which rendered this work as one of suffering in an almost religious sense. Rather than marking the end of a symphonic tradition we heard a view that remains contemporary to our artistic predicament; how do we present integrity and truth in a world where superficiality seems to satisfy the majority of its citizens?



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