Introduction and Allegro, for string quartet and string orchestra, Op.47
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Symphony No.1 in B flat minor
Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 23 September, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The London Symphony Orchestra is giving plenty of attention to Walton’s First Symphony at the moment – just a few months ago with André Previn and now several performances with Sir Colin Davis. This Barbican account was preceded by one in Brussels (Flanders Festival), there’s one in New York (Avery Fisher Hall, 2 October, with Vaughan Williams’s No.6, an enticing pairing of British masterpieces), and then back in the Barbican on 4 December – and also recorded for LSO Live.
Colin Davis gave the score its emotional head without quite letting it off the leash; and loudness shouldn’t be mistaken for comprehensively unfolding the music. The first movement was slightly unkempt if powerfully sculptured, and if the momentous coda was nearly derailed by an ill-timed slowing, there was energy aplenty as well as some subtle underlining of motivic relationships. Davis’s attention to Walton’s use of syncopation and ornamentation was intrinsically revealed in the slightly underplayed and under-tempo scherzo, not quite malicious enough, maybe, if always musically articulate. The highlight was the slow movement, the marked Andante taken at trust, in which melancholy (also as marked) was intimated rather than wallowed in and suggesting a moonlit scene, a gentle breeze wafting private recollections to intense accumulation ravishingly rebuffed and painfully exorcised. The finale wasn’t quite as towering, almost too easily played. Maurice Murphy’s reflective trumpet solo was a moment to treasure (a shame though that in the build-up to it the piccolo was all but inaudible), and Davis successfully avoided pomposity in what can be a gratuitous coda, save that in the vivid and immediate Barbican Hall acoustic a little more regard for dynamic restraint is needed. Why four trombones for a work scored for three?
Although there’s no doubting the close rapport that Mitsuko Uchida and Colin Davis have established, this account of Schumann’s Piano Concerto was a curious one; well-balanced, self-assured and, maybe its undoing, entirely ‘normal’ – but Schumann’s flights of fancy never took wing and his sense of fantasy wasn’t fully explored. Only a rapturous account of the central ‘intermezzo’ blossomed – some glorious sounds from the cellos – but the piano itself produced hard-edged fortissimos while some quieter passages would have benefited from an extra p; the hall’s acoustic isn’t always conducive to the lowest end of the dynamic scale. Some of Uchida’s ‘accompanying’, while accommodating, was also a little self-conscious; one of those performances that probably did all the right things without getting inside music that needs instinct rather than correctness.
The concert had opened with Elgar’s masterly Introduction and Allegro – rich-toned and passionate, flexible and noble, with just enough fire in the fugue and a heart-warming response to the score’s half-lights and -remembrances. The occasional (surprising) mannerism aside, Sir Colin led an account vibrating with feeling. For the record – not that you would know this from the programme book – the excellent string quartet was Gordan Nikolitch, David Alberman, Edward Vanderspar and Tim Hugh, the latter an especially eloquent contributor.