LSO/Colin Davis Mitsuko Uchida … Belshazzar’s Feast

Christian Mason
Clear Night [UBS Soundscapes: Pioneers commission: World premiere]
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Belshazzar’s Feast

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

Peter Coleman-Wright (baritone)

London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Pavel Kotla [Mason]

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 30 September, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The latest (the seventeenth) of the UBS commissions proved energised and bracing, craggy and brilliant, the title of Clear Night (from David Gascoigne’s poem “Tenebrae”) vividly suggested in the music, the score itself being tightly organised and imaginatively orchestrated, compelling over it seven minutes and suggesting that Christian Mason (born 1984) is a composer to watch out for.

Mitsuko UchidaOtherwise the concert was as for two evenings earlier. Colin Davis and Mitsuko Uchida are a tried and trusted partnership and here produced a Beethoven concerto of serene strength and inner contemplation, weighty and trenchant as required, searching and mercurial for the most part, tempos always moderate (and lyrically contrasted in the finale), the music unusually substantial and here made intensely personal.

“Belshazzar’s Feast” (being recorded for LSO Live) was less successful, probably because it was just a little short of swing and wit, those things that make Walton the composer he is. Nor was it as pristine a performance as the incision of Walton’s scoring demands. That said it was certainly intense and dramatic, the London Symphony Chorus giving its all, the LSO sparing nothing (except an organ it seems!).

While greater dynamic contrast would have been welcome (especially down the quieter end), there was no doubting that the opening lamenting was brought off with a keen edge rather than static indulgence, and that the Feast itself was uninhibited, Peter Coleman having relished the list of Babylon’s riches. Although a little more hedonistic grandeur would have been welcome as would less-forced rejoicing for the aftermath of Belshazzar’s demise (although there was no doubt that he had indeed been “Slain!”), this was a performance – while missing out on Waltonian sleight-of-hand – that reached for the sky and sometimes found stars!

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