LSO/Colin Davis – 4 December

Coriolan – Overture
Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93
A Mind of Winter
Piano Concerto in A, K414

Valdine Anderson (soprano)
Radu Lupu (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 4 December, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

A concert in which small was beautiful and intimate expression spoke volumes. This pleasingly unhackneyed programme brought together Beethoven’s ’little’ Eighth Symphony, ending rather than beginning a concert, one of Mozart’s lesser-known concertos and George Benjamin’s exquisite setting of Wallace Stevens.

Compared to Frans Brüggen’s way with Coriolan a few days earlier, Colin Davis’s conducting of the opening measures might be thought explosive. As a microcosm of tragedy and lyrical import, Davis distilled contemporary relevance without endangering the overture’s tight organisation. The Symphony was stately and warm with no lack of fist-like emphasis. Some of Davis’s phrasal lingering maybe detoured away from the main journey but there was no doubting the coiling-up and release of tension. Davis appreciates Beethoven’s wit – in the humorous take on the then-new metronome (second movement), and not least by not undermining the jocular first movement pay-off with a spurious rit. Select indeed are the conductors who achieve this. Best of all was the measured ’Finale’: time given to hear melodic shapes with no diminution of energy.

“By George!”, the LSO’s “musical encounters with George Benjamin”, runs through the 2002-3 season. A Mind of Winter is an 8-minute setting of Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man”. Fragile and chilly sounds convey a lonely atmosphere and anguished sentiments. With each sound carefully crafted – the sparing use of percussion, or muted trumpets (not least the piccolo member of the family) or bassoons (the boughs under the snow) – Valdine Anderson was characteristically sympathetic as she weaved her mellifluous and angular lines as part of the orchestral fabric. Benjamin’s acute ear for sound makes the LSO’s project one to follow keenly. The next “By George!” is on 2 February.

Radu Lupu and Colin Davis – wonderful musical friends – should ideally be together with the LSO every few months. After recent outstanding accounts of Brahms’s D minor concerto, Lupu, who can summon power when he needs it, brought all his other wondrous qualities to Mozart’s joyous A major concerto. After a graceful, silken-sounding introduction from the LSO, Lupu delighted the ear with a rare degree of subtlety and poeticism. For those who mistakenly listen with their eyes, Lupu must seem terribly laid-back. Yet his beguiling sound, his varied touch, his range of rainbow colours and discriminating dynamics get straight to the soul of the music and direct to the listener. Words do not do justice to Lupu’s alchemy. It is a privilege to hear him, for he re-defines what is possible on the piano. On this occasion, the flowing slow movement wafted from Olympus, the ’Finale’ was sublimely articulate, and the whole was graciously unspectacular while being pure magic.

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