LSO/Colin Davis Radu Lupu – Mozart and Nielsen

Symphony No.34 in C, K338
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466
Symphony No.5, Op.50

Radu Lupu (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 4 October, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Sir Colin Davis. Photograph: Alberto Venzago / LSONo-one could accuse Sir Colin Davis of playing safe. Setting out on a three-yearcycle of Nielsen symphonies would be a tough assignment for most conductors, let alone one in his early eighties having performed little of this composerhitherto. Repeated from three days earlier, starting with the Fifth (1922) was itself a bold gesture, thissymphony usually being seen as the culmination of the cycle.

Davis has described Nielsen’s music as “much wilder than Sibelius”, yetwildness rarely came to mind in his traversal of the first movement. Theopening lacked that ominous quality which should become threatening when theside drum-propelled processional gets underway: there was insufficient sensein what follows of the music intensifying emotionally – for all that Davissecured the tempo giusto from the outset. Following seamlessly, the Adagiosecond-half moved with unforced nobility to its climax; though here, areining-in of the timpani that acts less as a tonal grounding of thetexture, and Neil Percy’s too-well-behaved side drum cadenza, made for aculmination less than elemental – though Andrew Marriner’s clarinet-playingin the tranquil close was something to savour.

Although proceeding with minimal pause, the second movement did not entirelygel with what went before. Davis had the measure of the initial Allegro’ssurging ardour – though its seismic climax felt less so given his decisionto omit the timpani interjections, which he perhaps felt to be undulyrhetorical – then generated suitable abandon as the Presto ran its unrulycourse. The Andante seemed a little too hard-pressed for its tranquillomarking to register, for all that the LSO strings had the right luminosity,though this ensured an unbroken continuity going into the resumption of theAllegro then an apotheosis that, while undeniably over-wrought, left nodoubt as to the music’s defiant conclusiveness.

The first half had found Davis on familiar ground with Mozart. A (too)rare outing for Symphony No.34 was at its best in the strings-only Andante, the LSO players evincing a melting pathos, though there was little to faultin the muscular energy of the opening Allegro and only the absence of anexposition repeat made the finale more peremptory than it is (for which Davis mighthave compensated by including the K409 Minuet that makes sense inthe context of this three-movement work).

Radu Lupu. Photograph: DeccaThe D minor Piano Concerto brought a welcome collaboration with Radu Lupu – sitting on his customary ‘office chair’, ever more the bemusedobserver, while playing with a poise that few could hope to rival.Momentarily awry passagework and a subdued account of the Beethoven cadenzahardly detracted from the tragic intensity of the first movement, and ifLupu seemed hesitant in the stormy central section of the ‘Romanze’, hecharacterized the finale’s alternating angst and humour with real certaintyas to their reconciliation. Those affirmative final pages emerged after abizarre cadenza: Lupu the composer in a rare appearance?

A thought-provoking programme overall, with Davis’s Nielsen cycle set tocontinue next May with the ‘Inextinguishable’ Fourth Symphony.

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