LSO/Colin Davis – 27th June – The Planets

Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
The Planets, Op.32

Sarah Chang (violin)
Ladies of the London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 27 June, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

It’s quite an accolade to this music and these performers that the LSO is playing this programme three times – in a city where two such similar evenings remain the exception. This second performance was well attended.

Sarah Chang seems to have been around a long time, yet is barely into her ’twenties. Brahms’s concerto is a tough challenge – its expressive scope and physicality in particular; some violinists feel that it is written against the instrument. Chang took it on but, at present, is punching above her weight. Her tone is honestly wiry, save the Vengerov-like throbbing that seems out of place. She has ideas too, welcome as such, yet little that convinces within a romanticised view that is further over-egged, even to seeming spurious.

Following the first movement, spacious and distending to sogginess, the ’Andante moderato’ was more an adagio – effectively a second slow movement, one that spun to blandness. The ’Finale’ lacked fire and seemed more a technical exercise. Colin Davis offered a professional accompaniment, the LSO’s strings full in numbers and lustre; no concessions were made to classical leanness, which is fair enough but not necessarily at one with the music.

Good to note that Sir Colin is continuing with antiphonal violins, cellos and basses to the right (first savoured when Davis conducted Bruckner in February); at this stage of his career, one is intrigued as to why he has now opted for this commensurate layout.

When the best of these Planets has been chosen, the resulting “LSO LIVE” CD should be among the best. Yet, in my opinion, this ’suite for large orchestra’ has been well and truly shafted in its 80-plus years – it has spawned derivative film and concert scores, and then there’s the hijacking, for nefarious purposes, signature tunes and the like, of the ’hymn’ at the heart of ’Jupiter’.

I’m not sure that Davis and the LSO rehabilitated this (for me) ’problem’ score, one so easy to schedule as a sure-fire ’hit’. Not that there was anything easy about this performance, yet it still left a feeling of incompleteness. And I don’t mean the lack of Colin Matthews’s recent tailpiece, Pluto, which for the record (if not the CD) was not included – good, perhaps, that this recent trend should be put ’on hold’.

First-class playing if some odd balances, which I’m inclined to suggest is peculiarities of the refurbished acoustic that are becoming more and more noticeable as the first anniversary becomes due. Really quiet playing is still a luxury and, here, details from the glockenspiel and xylophone were too dominant; I think though that the ’big tune’ of ’Jupiter’ was horn-dominated by design. Otherwise ’Mars’ could have been more crunching at a slower tempo, and if the off-stage ladies-chorus’ fade-away worked well (from behind the platform), this was a brightly-lit rendition that kept elusive whatever it is I’m looking for in this music!

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