LSO/Colin Davis – Schubert & Bruckner (2)

Azalea Fragments (after Patrick Heron) [UBS Soundscapes: Pioneers commission: World premiere]
Symphony No.8 in B minor, D759 (Unfinished)
Symphony No.6 in A [Edition by Leopold Nowak]

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Pavel Kotla [Duddell]

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 1 June, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The old ears were ringing at the end of the Bruckner: LSO brass once again too loud and too many (for the composer’s requirements). No more need be said. I mentioned this in my review of the previous concert.

Sir Colin Davis. Photograph: LSOColin Davis has already the graced the LSO Live catalogue with an expansive account of Bruckner 6. Very recommendable. This latest performance was more free-flowing than the one captured for posterity (and without those all-important antiphonal violins to be heard on the disc!), although it’s gratifying to note that Sir Colin has retained his very deliberate tempo for the scherzo; it doesn’t find universal approval – but it works! Elsewhere there was much to admire in Davis’s virile and thought-through approach – if not always perfectly together in the strings’ rhythmic impulses – but one that yielded at appropriate moments to display the conductor’s affection for the music without indulging. The slow movement had particular eloquence.

In the first half, a spry Sir Colin had conducted an especially involving ‘Unfinished’. With tempos kept on the move, but never rushed, there was palpable intensity from the off – and more so when the exposition was repeated – the blissful second subject artlessly shaped – the development full of tension and anguish (the full resources of the LSO, founded on nine double basses, let off the leash). This wide-ranging performance, unusually ‘complete’, found the second (last) movement as the different side of the same coin – serene expression confronted by anguished outbursts – but timpani and brass simply do not need to be so forceful and blaring in this bright and immediate acoustic. A shame that a member of the audience clapped into the final silence that Davis so potently conjured and was still ‘conducting’ at the time; the miscreant should be banned for a few concerts!

'Azalea Garden: May 1956' (1956). ©The estate of Patrick HeronIt was good to hear Azalea Fragments again. Again? The listing says ‘world premiere’. Indeed, but it was given a performance (and also recorded) in an LSO Discovery Workshop at Jerwood Hall a few weeks ago. Pavel Kotla seemed to give the piece a little more time than did François-Xavier Roth, and one was struck again by Joe Duddell’s luminous scoring. And also (now) his indebtedness to Michael Tippett (although I now question my previous references to Benjamin Britten and Lennox Berkeley!). Appropriately, given that the music is inspired by Patrick Heron’s canvas(es), specifically “Azalea Garden”, Azalea Fragments is indeed painterly in effect, melodies evolving into full bloom and covering a lot of ground in six minutes or so. Impressive.

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