LSO/Colin Davis Nikolaj Znaider – Sibelius [Review 2]

The Oceanides, Op.73
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Symphony No.4 in A minor, Op.63

Nikolaj Znaider (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 2 July, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Nikolaj ZnaiderThe closing concert of the London Symphony Orchestra’s 2007-08 season found Sir Colin Davis and Nikolaj Znaider offering a Sibelius programme for the second time within a few days.

In the Violin Concerto (in its familiar Revised Version), Znaider somewhat overdid vibrato but managed, in the first movement, to be both intense and confiding if somewhat diffuse structurally; the final bars kept somewhat under wraps. If it was vivid, and with a sense of narrative, it palled too. The slow movement, however eloquent, lacked variegation, but the finale was a total success, especially in the observance of the ‘ma non tanto’ qualification to the Allegro marking – here there was a crispness of articulation from the soloist that had the movement swinging and unforced, the orchestra’s rhythms having a ‘bouncing ball’ quality that seemed absolutely ‘right’ and which was successfully maintained (with tension accruing) through to the final bars. Znaider and Davis were of one mind; rarely has the finale been so persuasive.

The concert had opened with a wonderful account of The Oceanides, written by Sibelius for a music festival in Connecticut and conducted there by the composer in June 1914. It’s a relative rarity in terms of performances of Sibelius’s music; Colin Davis led an enthralling performance that balanced perfectly graceful dancing (nymphs) and expressive entreaties, the powerful undercurrents (present from the off) building inexorably to a mighty climax.

Sir Colin DavisHopefully the LSO Live microphones present for the symphony, which will complete Davis’s third recorded Sibelius cycle, also captured The Oceanides. Presumably the plan is to couple No.4 with the First, which was set down a couple of seasons ago.

Sibelius 4 is one of the greatest of symphonies – dark, introspective and disturbing. That Davis gave the music an epic dimension was no surprise; he certainly squared up to the despair that Sibelius (ill and self-doubting at the time, 1911) expressed in this most uncompromising of works; yet, in the first movement, Davis seemed to find solace where none exists and slightly watered-down the prevailing blackness. Yet the scherzo’s unease and ambiguities were brought off with real edge and the slow movement was as broad as ‘Il tempo largo’ suggests as well as emotionally burdened for all the sparseness of the writing; there was a potent suggestion of trying to climb out of the depths.

In the finale Davis retained his use of both tubular bells and glockenspiel – Sibelius’s request for ‘glocken’ has been taken to mean either instrument – and while it seems Sibelius once confirmed his preference for glockenspiel (revealed to conductor Leslie Heward, as I recall), the ‘colder’ sound of bells seems more apt.

Whatever one makes of Davis’s ‘solution’ to this textural conundrum, his and the orchestra’s unfolding of the grinding climax was riveting, so too the conductor’s appreciation that the final bars should proceed without any sense of retardation, which here made for a truly devastating ‘no way out’ conclusion – music that stops rather than finishes – and a long silence that spoke pessimistic volumes.

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