Symphony No.1 in F minor, Op.10
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.53
The Miraculous Mandarin Suite
Leonidas Kavakos (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 6 October, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Shostakovich is set to dominate the London Symphony Orchestra’s new season, with this performance of the First Symphony something of a warm-up. Andrey Boreyko clearly has an empathy with this composer – witness his account of the Tenth Symphony in Birmingham last season – even though his First was less convincing as an overall conception. Separating out the constituent themes of the opening movement (astonishing an 18-year-old should come up with something so original), Boreyko found a concentration to complement the scherzo’s tensile energy – its themes respectively driving and withdrawn, as befits this double-sided take on the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ in Russian music.
As Shostakovich broadens his expressive range over the latter movements, so the work becomes harder to focus interpretatively. Boreyko had the measure of the Largo’s rapt emotion, though some over-wrought climaxes – horns, in particular, far too prominent – detracted from the intensity of the whole. Yet the closing bars were poignantly realised, and a suitably portentous transition ideally set up the finale. Here, Shostakovich seems to be battling with himself over what this movement should achieve: Boreyko underlined its extremes of fervour and repose without quite bringing them into a productive accord, such as makes the final pages conclusive rather than merely energetic. Enticing solo playing (one especially looks forward to Moray Welsh’s contributions during the season) certainly enhanced a performance which, if not more than the sum of its parts, still had considerable merit.
In what was an oddly-constructed programme, in Dvořák’s Violin Concerto Leonidas Kavakos consolidated his strong showing on recent occasions with playing both incisive and poetic. The preludial first movement (picked-up from Bruch’s G minor Concerto) emerged as more imposing than usual – building up a momentum that was allayed by the wistful rhapsody of the Adagio before being channelled into the energy of the finale. Kavakos brought nostalgic unease to the former – which strikingly anticipates that of the Cello Concerto – and a propulsive drive to the latter, which emerged as a ‘dance fantasy’ in the way its themes were skilfully dovetailed over an unbroken pulse. Not that the LSO is unfamiliar with it, but the Violin Concerto often seems undervalued within Dvořák’s overall orchestral output – such as is amply belied by a performance of this conviction.
Dance of a different sort pervades Bartók’s ballet (or rather ‘pantomime’) The Miraculous Mandarin – the suite from which concluded the evening. Boreyko presided over something of a ‘curate’s egg’ of a performance: fast and furious in the opening depiction of a street scene, then adopting a rather calculated and episodic approach to the ‘attraction, seduction and ejection’ sequences that culminate in the arrival of the mandarin – suitably emphatic here. He followed through the coming-together of the ‘victims’ with suitably keen intensity, but the ensuing chase sequence – though not under-powered – lacked dynamic precision and rounded off matters in inconclusive fashion.