Guildhall Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis Lauren Reeve-Rawlings – Mozart & Bruckner

Die Zauberflöte – Overture
Horn Concerto No.4 in E flat, K495
Symphony No.7 in E [Nowak edition; middle movements transposed by Colin Davis]

Lauren Reeve-Rawlings (horn)

Guildhall Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 25 October, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Colin Davis. Photograph: Hiroyuki ItoOver the years the coming-together of Sir Colin Davis and youth/student orchestras has created numerous electric and memorable concerts. This latest instalment wasn’t quite so consistently elevated – although both the Mozart pieces and the slow movement of the Bruckner aimed high. It’s been very gratifying to witness Sir Colin’s return to the podium after an enforced Summer break; and, indeed, this Guildhall Symphony Orchestra concert was dedicated to the conductor’s late wife.

Colin Davis and Mozart are synonymous. The Overture to “The Magic Flute” was ripe in sound as well as imperious at its outset, those summoning chords arresting, the ensuing allegro moderately paced, the music articulately expressed, detail and dynamics communicating life-enhancing joy. Similarly the last-numbered of Mozart’s horn concertos (written for Ignaz Leutgeb, not only a horn-player but also a purveyor of cheeses), opened in celebratory and muscular fashion (Sir Colin’s baton disappearing into the first violins, a second stick hastened from the principal cellist’s desk), with contours softened elsewhere – a fine introduction for Lauren Reeve-Rawlings to display her mellifluous tone, easeful phrasing, agility and confidence. If Reeve-Rawlings, in her late teens and currently studying at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, didn’t always maintain poise and accuracy in the highest-lying and most-decorated passages, she set a exhilarating pace for the finale that is also so-familiar as a comic-song by Michael Flanders & Donald Swann with the punning title of “Ill Wind”. The following words, written by Flanders, perfectly fit Mozart’s note-values for the opening of the finale (do sing along!)…

I once had a whim and I had to obey it
To buy a French horn in a second-hand shop
I polished it up and I started to play it
In spite of the neighbours who begged me to stop

… no need however for Lauren Reeve-Rawlings to cease playing, she’s going far, and she deserved the enthusiastic reception.

A Bruckner monument in ViennaThe audience, which included Frank Williams (best-known as the Vicar, the Reverend Timothy Farthing, in the BBCTV comedy series “Dad’s Army”), then settled for a lyrical and forceful account of Bruckner 7 that allowed trumpets and trombones (with one too many of each) to dominate aggressively. We were not informed which Edition Sir Colin was using, but as the Adagio’s climax was capped by the disputed cymbal clash (but not with a triangle on this occasion) then we’ll plump for Leopold Nowak’s (although it is perfectly possible to play Robert Haas’s version and interpolate the percussion). As is his want, Sir Colin reversed the order of the middle movements, but at least Anthony Burton’s programme-note made it clear that this is the conductor’s decision and has nothing to do with either Bruckner or any of his editors.

For all that the string sections totalled 73 players (founded on eleven double basses impressively lined across the rear of the platform), woodwind details broke through beguilingly and with character, and if the heavy brass upset good balance at times, and the horns and Wagner tubas were prone to accidents, this was a radiant and flowing performance, with nothing marmoreal, a musical and emotional journey that the young musicians were fully committed to and which Sir Colin led with vigour and ardour, the first movement also enjoying hush and introspection. The scherzo was given with drive, its trio a heartfelt outpouring. The slow movement (now unofficially third-placed) was sublime, and the finale was of lissom grace and culminating triumph.

For all the eager applause, Sir Colin returned only once to acknowledge it; although clapping continued undiminished, and was supplemented by the orchestra-members’ foot-stamping for its benevolent conductor, there was no further sign of Sir Colin: a curious end to the concert, the reception gradually dissipating for the vanished maestro.

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