Piano Concerto No.18 in B flat, K456
Te Deum, Op.22
Richard Goode (piano)
Colin Lee (tenor)
Choir of Eltham College
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 22 February, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Although he has recorded most of Berlioz’s major works with the London Symphony Orchestra over the last decade, Sir Colin Davis may have been wondering if certain pieces were simply impractical for the Barbican Hall’s relatively modest stage. If so, he need not have worried as this account of the “Te Deum” was audibly assimilated – in terms both of accommodating choir and orchestra and the resultant sound within the acoustic. Nor did the electronic organ present any obvious difficulty, the emanation of its sound towards the back of the circle ensuring that its vital contribution (ably rendered by John Alley) had requisite clarity while never seeming divorced from the remaining forces. Hopefully the forthcoming release on LSO Live will convey the splendour of what was heard.
Not that this would have secured the success of the undertaking had the actual performance lacked conviction. But, right from the opening confrontation between orchestra and organ, it was clear that Davis’s belief was comparable with that of his studio recording made almost four decades ago. Thus the initial ‘Te Deum laudamus’ brought surging affirmation and hushed uncertainty into vivid accord, then the ritualistic incantation of ‘Tibi omnes’ – with its mesmeric woodwind ostinatos – was capped by an exultant response from pairs of cymbals requiring four players. Nor was the measured eloquence of ‘Dignare, Domine’ underplayed, Davis underlining the poise of the most subtly wrought movement.
With a robust contrapuntal energy looking back via Beethoven to Handel, ‘Christe rex gloriae’ offers the clearest instance of that classicising tendency that was to inform Berlioz’s music henceforth, and in which Davis secured a suitably trenchant response. The solo tenor in ‘Te ergo quaesumus’ is often inappropriate or simply inadequate, but Colin Lee duly impressed with his incisive and accurate contribution – neatly dovetailed into a choral texture latterly to the fore in this most inward section and which makes the ‘Judex crederis’ more imposing – its unfaltering rhythmic solidity and expressive power having almost militaristic undertones, perhaps recalled from the close of the “Missa solemnis”, as a defiant apotheosis is reached – the London Symphony Chorus and Eltham College Choir strenuous in response – and with enough in reserve for the orchestral postlude to issue in thunderous magnificence. Yet there was nothing coldly monumental or detached here – Davis recognising that Berlioz’s plea is one which stems as much ‘from the heart to the heart’ as had Beethoven’s a quarter-century earlier.
Quite a contrast with Mozart’s B flat Piano Concerto that occupied the first half. Most unassuming of the ingratiating sextet of concertos from 1784, it has latterly become the preserve of chamber orchestras and authentic ensembles; yet, as Davis demonstrated, a slightly larger string section than is now the norm need not hinder clarity of texture. The participation of Richard Goode was a further enhancement – whether in pointing-up the harmonic side-steps that enrich the progress of the initial Allegro, the Andante’s gentle but searching pathos that was to find fuller expression in the A major concerto (K488) a year later, or the genial exuberance of the finale. Piano and orchestra were, for the most part, a model of co-ordination: hopefully Goode and Davis will be reunited in Mozart on future occasions – perhaps in a concert that concludes with Berlioz’s Symphonie funèbre et triomphale?