LSO/Colin Davis Evgeny Kissin

Les francs-juges – Overture, Op.3
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43

Evgeny Kissin (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 27 September, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Berlioz, Mozart, Sibelius … Sir Colin Davis – the circle was complete. Synonymous with all three composers, Davis (who turned 79 two days before this concert) was in swashbuckling form, LSO Live microphones capturing the Sibelius for future release, and hopefully the Berlioz, too.

When the LSO and Davis played Les francs-juges (the overture to a now-lost opera) at the Proms just a few weeks ago it had seemed, especially given Davis’s prowess in this composer, rather muted. Not on this occasion – a performance full of atmosphere and suspense, and poetic turning (especially the calming melody that was once used to introduce “Face to Face” on BBC telly back in the 1960s). With a keen ear for the demons in the piece and a thrilling build to a heady denouement, this was a rendition fully worthy of Berlioz’s imagination and extravagance. An abiding memory will be when the ‘signature tune’ returned, violin-tone pared down and with Sir Colin leaning on the rails of the podium, motionless, except for eye contact, letting the musicians get on with it.

Drama unfolded, too, courtesy of the orchestra, in the Mozart concerto. Evgeny Kissin’s first entry was consoling, drawing the listener in. He wasn’t so communicative elsewhere, although throughout this was impeccable, immaculate playing that sometimes was a little too dominating in both tone and dynamics. More demonstrative passages were honed and sweeping and the intimate writing often heartfelt and confiding. Yet, for all Kissin’s etiquette, not least when merely brushing the keys to ‘accompany’ the orchestra, there was something too worked out – to near-perfection it must be said – but which left little or no room for something ‘off the cuff’ or for complete interaction. The short (unidentified) cadenzas were well brought off and Kissin’s shapely way with the middle movement was undoubtedly affecting even if some decoration was rather arch. Kissin’s pre-meditation was one thing, the LSO’s woodwinds another; the most beguiling music-making came from there. But there was much that was positive from Kissin, even though a generally favourable impression was somewhat undone by his encore, the ‘Rondo alla Turca’ (the finale of Mozart’s Sonata in A, K331), which was rapid-fire and charm-less.

Balance was not always exact in the concerto – fortissimos found the piano sometimes covering the woodwinds – and, in the symphony, the LSO’s brass tended to hector at times (and less strident tone would have been welcome). That said, Maurice Murphy gave a ‘model’ trumpet solo in the second movement, eloquent and refined – and this was a very ‘complete’ performance in the sense that it was totally sure of itself. Maybe too confident, for this is music that is underpinned by nationalistic struggle and, finally, affirmation; the latter was there but not always the former. Yet, satisfaction came with the performers’ undoubted identity with the music – a tightly symphonic account that had no lack of expressive fluidity, a vibrant and volatile performance with much emotional surge as well as hushed introspection and meaningful changes of dynamics and well-prepared ‘dissolves’. ‘Passion and pathos’ seems a good way to sum it up.

  • Concert also played on Thursday 28 September
  • LSO

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