LSO/Colin Davis Jonathan Biss – Beethoven

Halo [Panufnik Young Composers Scheme commission: world premiere]
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

Jonathan Biss (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Clemens Schuldt [Halo]

Reviewed by: Bob Briggs

Reviewed: 13 March, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Vlad Maistorovici is a 26-year-old, Romanian-born, London-domiciled composer and violinist who is benefitting from the Panufnik Young Composers Scheme, which allows him to participate in workshops with such as Colin Matthews. Halo is a very promising work, but suffered, as do too many orchestral works by young composers, from an over-abundance of percussion. There is some fine music in this piece, especially in the writing for strings, but on a couple of occasions this was spoiled by some miscalculations in the brass writing. Maistorovici displays a strong melodic invention but the work is too episodic, the climax rather banal and commonplace. Certainly Maistorovici has something to say and hopefully he will reign in the excesses of Halo and concentrate on the development of material. Halo received a good if somewhat lacklustre performance under Clemens Schuldt.

Jonathan Biss. Photograph: J KatzThe last time I heard Jonathan Biss, in Mozart’s E flat Concerto (K482) with the London Philharmonic and Marin Alsop, I was worried that he seemed unable to match the strength and vision of Alsop’s concept. I felt the same here: Biss’s view of Beethoven’s C minor Piano Concerto was slightly at odds with Sir Colin Davis’s. All started well with a positive and purposeful tutti filled with expectation; however, on his first entry Biss started to push the tempo forwards, often to the detriment of the music. Ultimately Biss was too glib and too concerned with technique at the expense of interpretation. The slow movement was much better, Biss being more relaxed and settled and his hypnotic playing of the opening phrases was complemented by Sir Colin’s rapt intensity, and the pianist was especially good when in duet with woodwinds. The finale was very spirited but Biss again tried to push the tempo when it neither needed nor required it.

Sir Colin Davis. Photograph: Alberto Venzago / LSOSir Colin Davis’s view of Beethoven 7 was as fresh and vital as you could want and full of the many decades of the thought and understanding he has given to this music. Despite using a full string section Sir Colin achieved both power and delicacy in the slow introduction which led into an allegro full of urgency, an irresistible forward momentum made all the more compelling by Davis’s choice of a perfect tempo and rigidly sticking to it. The slow movement was of majestic tragedy, Sir Colin finding a depth of feeling I have never experienced in this music before. The scherzo positively danced along, the trio well integrated. The finale returned to the resolve of the first movement, the LSO playing with intensity and brilliance. Magnificent!

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