The Confession of Isobel Gowdie
Piano Concerto No.13 in C, K415
Symphony No 6 in D, Op.60
Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 21 February, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
James MacMillan spoke to us briefly about Isobel Gowdie, brutally executed in 17th-century Scotland for allegedly being a witch. His musical work is an “act of contrition from the people of Scotland that she never received”. In his programme note, MacMillan writes of how an overwhelming sense of sorrow took over from his concern for the issue itself. The piece is some 30 minutes long and has several distinct sections played without a break. I was not greatly moved and found the work rather too long. The writing is active, lithe and austere, though I found MacMillan’s verbal comparison to Stravinsky utterly misleading. Sir Colin Davies conducted efficiently and briskly. The final, huge chord, which involves the whole orchestra, shimmered heavily and grotesquely.
Mitsuko Uchida is one of the very finest Mozart players. Her sound is cool and refined and her playing poised and intelligent; and very sensitive, both to feeling and to nuance. She handled Mozart’s first movement exuberance lightly but impressively. In the slow movement, she dropped easily into the exquisite minor key section with great delicacy, without making a meal of it – incorporating it agilely. In the finale, she scampered skittishly. Colin Davies always presides over Mozart with the utmost sympathy.
The Dvořák symphony was a mixed bag. The first two movements have promising opening ideas, quite ravishing – a vigorous, engaging lilt in the first and pastoral beauty in the second. Much of what came between the appearances and re-appearances of these themes comes across as routine and using a few well-worn techniques over-repetitively. The lushness of Dvořák’s conception came through in this performance though. The scherzo and finale were much better fare – Dvořák in robust mode, Sir Colin responding accordingly. The LSO performed splendidly.
Many in the audience clapped at the end of the first two movements. This practice should not be encouraged.