LSO/Colin Davis Mitsuko Uchida – Haydn, Mozart and Nielsen [The Inextinguishable]

Symphony No.97 in C
Piano Concerto No.17 in G, K453
Symphony No.4 (The Inextinguishable)

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 9 May, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Sir Colin Davis. Photograph: Alberto Venzago / LSOIt would be surprising were this concert not to go down as one of the best from the current London season. Certainly it made real sense as a balanced and integrated programme – Haydn and Mozart both being composers of whom Nielsen was a direct if unlikely successor. A handful of exceptions aside, Haydn symphonies are all too infrequently encountered at present and No.97 (1792), neither the most imposing nor searching of the final twelve, is an archetype in all respects. Sir Colin Davis found a convincing balance between an expectant introduction, then in the alternately boisterous and suave Allegro. The variations that constitute the Adagio were eloquently delineated, while the Minuet went with an easy swing that complemented the folk-like overtones of its Trio. Nor was there a lack of wit or verve in the finale – Davis mindful to emphasise a coda which, as with that of the first movement, is a succinct though considered reflection on its main ideas before the timely surge to the finish.

Mitsuko Uchida. Photograph: Richard AvedonAlthough Mitsuko Uchida is more likely to be found directing Mozart from the piano these days, the opportunity to collaborate with Colin Davis is clearly irresistible and the outcome was an account of the G major Piano Concerto (1784) that can have had few, if any, rivals over recent decades. If not the most anticipatory of the six concertos that Mozart wrote in that one year, the G major is probably the one most fully poised between elegance and pathos. The formal follow-through of the opening movement was well-nigh seamless, Uchida integrating its brief yet pivotal development and (her own?) cadenza into an unbroken musical discourse, while the Andante had an even greater sense of inevitability in its tonal interplay: ‘sublime’ in the truest sense. The finale is ostensibly lighter fare, but its deft variations on one of Mozart’s most insouciant themes were artlessly rendered – making way for an effervescent coda, which seems to encapsulate the entire work in miniature. Soloist and orchestra were throughout at one in their response, confirming this as a performance to treasure.

After which, Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony (1916) could only offer the greatest possible contrast. What in Haydn and Mozart was civilisation at its fullest realisation is here in the process of imploding, with the creative act no longer a virtue but a necessity. It was this unequivocal aspect Davis conveyed most strongly in a performance that maintained onward drive at all costs. There were losses – the heart-easing second main theme needed more room to breathe, while not even the London Symphony Orchestra strings could articulate consistently elsewhere in the first movement. The equivocal transition into its successor was effortlessly brought off, however, and the latter had enough ambivalence for its pastoral charm never to feel a diversion. As its marking implies, the third movement was slow only in context – Davis drawing plangent intensity from the strings, for all that the rapt central span was a little overwrought. The transition into the finale was ideally judged and while its tumultuous outer sections pulled no punches – antiphonal timpani in a battle to the death – it was in the restive central section that matters came into fullest focus before a conclusion as defiant as it was affirmative.

One final point: the ‘motto’ theme bestriding the work at the end of the first movement’s exposition, then at the apex of its coda and finally in the work’s closing bars is normally taken more slowly with each appearance, whereas it should be taken faster. Davis took these three appearances at almost exactly the same tempo – risking long-term momentum but ensuring a level of cohesion perhaps the more necessary given the sheer velocity of the reading as a whole. Apparently this is scheduled for “possible” future release on LSO Live: hopefully that proviso will not prove to be binding.

  • Concert broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 19 May at 7 p.m.
  • LSO
  • Barbican

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