LSO/Colin Davis Mitsuko Uchida – 2

Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36
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: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 February, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

A generous programme of two expansive D major symphonies (with all possible repeats observed in both works) and one of Mozart’s lesser-played piano concertos.

The latter was confirmed as a gem, capricious in invention, certainly in the multifaceted finale, and equally confirmed the close rapport between Mitsuko Uchida and Sir Colin Davis. Uchida’s limpid playing constantly searched and asked questions of music that may be perceived as ‘high-class entertainment’, but which was here revealed as deeply expressive, tranquilly reflective, rapt and, in the finale, quixotic, the whole not lacking brilliance, either; indeed the addition of trumpets and timpani adds bright-eyed ceremony. This performance was a total joy.

In contrast, the opening Beethoven symphony seemed, at times, something of a ‘final rehearsal’, if full of good things (these being Davis’s generosity with, and relish of, the music). From Davis the work was significant in terms of expression, but lacked sonic weight – the reduced strings (founded on five double basses) made the music rather too comfortable. Davis led an account that could have imposed itself more (retrospectively the militaristic aspects of Mozart’s concerto, with an even smaller orchestra, had more impact), which would have suggested the symphony more as proto-‘Eroica’ than elongated Haydn. If the first movement didn’t quite catch fire, the Larghetto was radiant and shaped ineffably as a ‘song without words’, the Minuet had elegance, and the finale, not rushed off its feet with a metronomic lack of imagination, allowed time for burgeoning expression and witty asides amidst the flurry of activity.

Originally, Davis was scheduled to conduct Dvořák’s Fifth Symphony, but seems to have had second thoughts as to the music’s quality. A surprising decision, for the F major Symphony is a wonderful piece; maybe Sir Colin will take another look at the score one day. Meanwhile the Sixth Symphony proved a fortuitous replacement. A couple of seasons ago Davis had played two performances – the first without the first movement exposition repeat, the second with (and both accounts were the basis of the LSO Live release) – neither of which quite hit the mark. This present performance (there was also one the previous evening) was glorious – given with forward thrust and arching lyricism and played with ripe-sounding enthusiasm by an orchestra now with nine double basses. This utterly compelling reading made a memorable appendix to the recording: incisive and fiery and soulful without indulgence. The scherzo was terrifically exuberant and the finale developed from an amiable country walk to a whirlwind conclusion, Davis securing vivid and detailed playing that was constantly alive to the cross-currents of Bohemian dance-rhythms and Dvořák’s pastoral and intense humanity.

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