LSO/Colin Davis Anne-Sophie Mutter – Dvořák’s Violin Concerto & Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass

Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.53
Glagolitic Mass

Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)

Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano), Anna Stephany (mezzo-soprano), Simon O’Neill (tenor) & Martin Snell (bass)

Catherine Edwards (organ)

London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 10 October, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

This was an outstanding concert, both works performed with a conviction that was utterly compelling.

In Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, Anne-Sophie Mutter was, in the first couple of phrases, oddly reticent, but any suggestion of anything unforthcoming was quickly dispelled, with her bringing a fiery gypsy-like flavour to the vigorous passages and projecting the essential melancholia of the more reflective episodes. She was well-supported by Sir Colin Davis drawing ripe playing from the LSO strings and horns, and evoking expressive playing from the solo winds.

The first two movements benefitted greatly from an absence of lingering or ‘hanging fire’ in any way; in the second one, the Adagio ma non troppo marking was scrupulously observed, as were the indications for quieter dynamics. There was real contrast between loud and soft sections, with the trumpets’ dramatic interjections providing dramatic frisson. The finale, quite simply, was dazzling. Apart from executing the formidable technical requirements with ease, Mutter wholly conveyed the spirit of the Furiant dance from which Dvořák drew inspiration. This is a very ‘busy’ concerto for the soloist – barely a few bars’ respite – but Mutter was more than equal to its demands; the closing minutes from both her and the orchestra were terrifically exciting.

It is no exaggeration to say that I have never heard a performance of Janáček’s remarkable “Glagolitic Mass” given with a power and directness that was as positively Pagan as this one. It was also very loud and very fast at times – but breathtaking in its visceral impact. Perhaps only in ‘Svet’ (Sanctus) was the tempo pushed right to the limit which permitted clarity of instrumental execution and choral delivery.

Colin Davis had no truck with restoring passages which Janáček later revised; he stuck with the ‘standard’ edition – wisely, in my view – since a composer’s later thoughts are invariably not improvements. The single word that springs to mind to describe the performance as a whole is ‘urgent’. The imploring of ‘Gospodi pomiluj’ (Kyrie eleison), the fervour and rejoicing of ‘Slava’ (Gloria) and ‘Veruju’ (Credo) were projected with vitality – the crucifixion climax of the latter was terrifying.

The London Symphony Chorus was ardent in its delivery and well-nigh exemplary in its articulation of the text. Perhaps Simon O’Neill’s stentorian tenor stood out amongst the fine quartet of soloists, though the soprano’s high-lying phrases were delivered with refulgence by Krassimira Stoyanova.The only real blot on this exceptional performance was the use of an electronic substitute for an organ – inevitable in this hall. Well though Catherine Edwards played, the instrument was simply incapable of making the kind of impact Janáček intended – especially in the bass.

Nevertheless, one came away positively exhilarated by Colin Davis’s reading of this wonderful score. It is good to know it was recorded for future release on LSO Live.

  • Concert played again on Tuesday 12 October at 7.30 p.m.
  • LSO
  • Barbican

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