London Symphony Orchestra – Opening Concert 2006-7 Season

Schumann
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Sibelius
Symphony No.1 in E minor, Op.39

Evgeny Kissin (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis


Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 23 September, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

On the face of it, just these two works and no ‘overture’ seems short measure – but, the main work was being recorded for LSO Live and the repeat of the programme includes the world premiere of Bryn Harrison’s Shifting Light, the latest LSO/UBS commission. In any case this concert more than made up in quality what it lacked in duration.

Evgeny Kissin’s account of Schumann’s F sharp minor Sonata at a Royal Festival Hall recital some years ago suggested that he has a real affinity with the composer. Those for whom Kissin can do nothing right (and I have certainly been critical of him) should remember that there are only a handful of pianists – Andsnes and Argerich spring to mind – who can realise Schumann’s concerto with this level of technical freedom. It was evident, on this occasion, that Kissin was genuinely listening to and interacting with the other musicians on the platform – the Andante espressivo ‘interlude’ in the first movement was done with real tenderness – whereas in the past he has sometimes seemed to occupy his own space, remote from what is going on around him.

This was certainly a reading on the grandest scale; if there were moments of over-emphasis, such as the first movement double octaves, there were undoubted compensations. It is not often that the opening movement’s coda is despatched with such strength and filigree finesse by soloist and orchestra alike, or the link between the second movement and finale – a momentary shadow across the face of the moon – is shaded with such sovereign control. There were oddities, however – for instance the distinctly bizarre little holding back just before the finale’s sprint to the finishing post. But there was genuine music-making going on here nonetheless; Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra were alert and solicitous partners, the finale’s cross rhythms crisply done, and they provided a powerful counterpoise to their soloist. For good measure Kissin offered an unidentified encore, which was Schumann’s “Widmung” as arranged by Liszt.

With only the Second (imminent) and Fourth (next season) still to come, Davis’s hugely distinguished LSO Live Sibelius symphony cycle has entered the final straight. This account of the First Symphony found the LSO at its mightiest – indeed this orchestra seems to have had a special relationship with the piece ever since it first recorded it, with Robert Kajanus in 1930 (although there is a question mark as to whether the orchestra Kajanus conducted was actually the LSO), and, then, with Anthony Collins in the 1950s (and, later, I recall a superlative concert-account under Lorin Maazel, in lieu of an indisposed Stokowski).

Of all Sibelius’s symphonies, the First seems to cry out for the added stimulus of a live performance. From Andrew Marriner’s hypnotic opening clarinet solo one sensed that this was going to be special – and so it proved, the performance growing in stature as it progressed and with tension held at the very highest level throughout. The focus and depth of the string sound in the slow movement was wholly remarkable, its close achieving a rare inwardness, whilst the finale had a visceral aggression and weight characteristic of the LSO at its very finest.

A couple of minor blips aside, this was playing of a quality and finish that would have done credit to an orchestra with the luxury of several studio sessions. That the LSO should have got it so spectacularly right on the first take speaks volumes for the level at which the orchestra is currently playing. When Sibelius 1 is released, it will almost certainly be a ‘must-have’ disc.

  • Concert also played on Sunday 24 September
  • LSO

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