Introduction and Allegro, for string quartet and string orchestra, Op.47
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Nikolaj Znaider (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 24 May, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
With Valery Gergiev’s edgy, impulsive effect on the London Symphony Orchestra having become almost the norm now, it was quite a surprise, and a pleasant one, to hear the orchestra’s mighty string section on such full-throttle, burnished song under Sir Colin Davis’s suggestive, patrician baton in Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro (which the LSO premiered in 1905). The sound was huge (not surprising, with some 60 players) and the playing awe-inspiringly athletic – this life-enhancing, sunny piece just doesn’t work, especially in the fugue, if it sounds effortful and academic. Davis’s layered performance allowed the quartet of section principals to emerge out of the orchestra to thrilling effect, and there was a magical transparency to the gentler episodes.
Stravinsky’s ballet Orpheus lowered the temperature considerably. This 1947 score is Stravinsky at his most neo-classically cool, enhanced by Davis’s elegant approach, which paid full attention to the music’s subdued palette and reticent emotional range. It was the aural equivalent of a classical bas-relief frieze, remote, palely evocative and time-slowing. Davis’s teasing out of the music’s economic, repetitive angularity and bittersweet pungency was masterly, and the LSO winds in particular were at their luminous, responsive best.
From the opening bars of Brahms’s Violin Concerto, it was clear that this was going to be an epic performance, confirmed beyond doubt by the muscular deliberation of Nikolaj Znaider’s first entry. The sparks that flew between the LSO’s grand President and the young Danish violinist (playing the 1741 Guarnerius that once belonged to Kreisler) would have been enough to guarantee something special, but this was almost a marriage between three people, the third party being the LSO.
The result was electrifying. Davis gave the music weight and room to breathe, and Znaider fed that and his own discreetly romantic, profoundly intelligent interpretation through the orchestra so that the performance as a whole had the spontaneity of chamber music, but on a symphonic scale. It was as exciting to see as it was to hear, especially in the perfectly paced finale. This sort of collective focus is rare enough in a symphony; in a concerto, it’s even rarer and the effect is unforgettable. Znaider is a remarkable player, a thoughtful, risk-taking virtuoso with impeccable judgement – his sort doesn’t come round that often.