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, Op.29 (The Inextinguishable)

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 6 May, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Sir Colin Davis. Photograph: Alberto Venzago / LSOSir Colin Davis here continued his journey through Carl Nielsen’s six symphonies (two down, four to go) with a generally compelling account of ‘The Inextinguishable’. That Haydn and Mozart were bedfellows, and Mitsuko Uchida was the evening’s soloist, ensured a full house, save that not everybody stayed for the Nielsen – bizarre – and some of those who did remain seemed never to have heard of the composer let alone having familiarity with his great and indomitable Fourth Symphony – a consequence of our Mahler- and Shostakovich-sated times, maybe.

Haydn symphonies are not concert-staples either – something else that needs to be reconsidered – so it was good to hear one of those without a nickname even though it is embraced as part of the ‘London’ collection. For all that Davis clearly loved every second of the work – its grace, pride and lilt, dancing his way through the Trio, the staccatos of the Minuet made impish – it was a little too impromptu in terms of playing, the second movement, for all that Sir Colin played-up its contrasts, never quite recovering from the uncertain opening that found first violins mismatching (something possibly not helped by leader Sarah Nemtanu breaking a string just at the close of the first movement, the co-leader leaving the stage to repair it). But the spirit was there, whether in the strangely sparse, suddenly-severe first-movement development section or the perfectly paced finale that caught all its point and bustle. A big-hearted account: smiles all round.

Mitsuko Uchida. Photograph: Richard AvedonColin Davis and Mitsuko Uchida are the best of musical friends (“… Colin is one of the few people who can ask anything of me!”). Their closeness was easeful and productive in Mozart, Uchida a ‘first among equals’, and sometimes demurring to the orchestra, fashioned a consistently beautiful sound, crisp but never curt, gently touched, rarefied and transparent, the pathos of the slow movement made confidential, the finale very deliberately paced until cutting loose into the world of comic opera.

Carl Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony dates from 1916, the First World War raging and the composer with personal problems. This is music with a life-force all its own and owes nothing to nobody. Colin Davis launched the first movement at a speed akin to a coiled-up spring, maintaining momentum but not riding roughshod over noble or humane aspects. The second-movement intermezzo reminded of a Mozart serenade – not surprising given the conductor (LSO woodwinds very distinguished) – and intensity was full-on for the third movement, strings digging in.

Up to this point Davis had conjured a through-line of tempo relationships, a four-in-one symphony rather than a symphony in four movements. Come the ‘finale’ though, in which the second timpanist comes into play, although there was no let-up of vitality the movement seemed foreshortened, less craggy than usual (for all the motivic clarity), the timpani not so much battling as exchanging (these instruments widely spaced as Nielsen requests but, and contrary to his expectations, backwardly located), the reach to the conclusion rather too easily made (as part of a nifty 32-minute traversal) and lacking a degree of monumentality. Yet there was no doubting that Colin Davis and the LSO had given their collective all.

  • Concert played again on Sunday 9 May at 7.30
  • LSO
  • Barbican

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