Gramophone 25 Concert – 8th May

Sonata in C for unaccompanied violin (BWV 1005)
The Walk to the Paradise Garden (A Village Romeo and Juliet)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Die Forelle
An die Musik
Impromptu in G flat (D899/3)
Overtures – I vespri siciliani
La forza del destino

Ian Bostridge (tenor) & Julius Drake (piano)
Kennedy (violin)
Stephen Kovacevich (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Chailly, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Vernon Handley, Richard Hickox and Antonio Pappano

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 8 May, 2001
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

A programme suggesting buses – those that arrive one after the other. Only a few days before this concert – which celebrated 25 years of Gramophone Awards, the participants all recipients – both Verdi overtures had featured in the Royal Festival Hall’s 50th-birthday gala; then Elgar’s Violin Concerto found itself in tandem with Peter Maxwell Davies’s new Antarctic Symphony. Elgar’s opening movement should have ended proceedings here, but scant rehearsal found Kennedy with Bach, Handley conducting Bax; an agreeable solution – an Elgarian torso equated with dissatisfaction.

Preparation being at a premium, Chailly set a good standard with a detailed Sicilian Vespers overture, the LSO in crisp form; good to hear Verdi given theatrical import without vulgarity. Pappano similarly leads this repertoire from the inside; disappointing then that Force of Destiny verged on the melodramatic and was somewhat slap-happy.

Richard Hickox went the other way by underplaying Delius’s opera interlude, attractively chaste but rarely suggestive of being on the cusp of ecstasy, the climax tonally thin. This lack of opulence also marked Gardiner’s literal and unimaginative Sorcerer. Rhythmic exactitude with little wit, colour, dynamic shading and sense of involvement informed this one-dimensional, pushed-against rendition.

Bostridge and Drake presented Schubert’s songs vividly, albeit Bostridge’s precise enunciation and too staccato delivery tends to diminish musical narrative; An die Musik’s unbroken line was admirable. Kovacevich, this Impromptu not concert-aired since he was eleven, caught the piece’s intimacy, contrasting private thoughts with glowering trills.

A darkened auditorium, the soloist spotlighted, Kennedy closed with late-evening Bach, an account of the C major Sonata that coined the phrase ’calculated improvisation’. Romantic with a touch of gypsy, Kennedy’s rather static, heavy-weathered treatment of the first two movements challenged patience, especially the long-evolved ’Fugue’; the ’Largo’ was less effortful. After taking a swipe at the LSO’s management over rehearsal, Kennedy dashed through the E major Partita’s ’Preludio’ as he had the Sonata’s concluding ’Allegro assai’ – rather mechanically.

An eleventh-hour addition, Tintagel needed a ’wing and prayer’, which might have contributed to the success of this inspired performance. Handley gave an object lesson in what conducting is all about – how intimacy with, and awareness of, a score transcends practical limitations. Here, leading his beloved Bax, his long Boult-like baton a lucid guide, Handley drew some beautiful and variegated playing from the LSO. He also insisted on antiphonal violins (superficially explained by genial host Sean Rafferty), a layout essential in this music to open up the sound-picture and clarify the two sections’ dialogue, which the seconds’ pizzicato ’droplets’ – liberated, audibly belonging to the glorious ’big’ tune’s fabric – pertinently demonstrated.Handley’s innate understanding of Bax’s concept created a glowing seascape, brass-glinted and warmly expressed – the evening’s highlight. It would be appropriate for the LSO to invite ’Tod’ back; that this selfless musician doesn’t conduct more often in London is, to say the least, regrettable.

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