Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.28
Symphony No.5 in B flat, Op.100
Sarah Chang (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra conducted Sir Andrew Davis
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 14 July, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The final LSO concert of the season, and a welcome opportunity to see Sir Andrew Davis at the helm of an orchestra other than the BBC Symphony, and the LSO conducted by a different knighted Davis! Sir Andrew directed a well-contrasted programme, opening with the Quatre études that Stravinsky orchestrated in 1930 from his Three Pieces for string quartet and the Étude for Pianola. Davis got an incisive response from the LSO: whether in the stylised motion of ’Danse’, the rhythmic dislocation of ’Excentrique’, the mystical solemnity of ’Cantique’ or the throwaway Spanishness of ’Madrid’. A diverse and intriguing sequence – always worth reviving.
So too was Karl Goldmark’s Violin Concerto of 1877. Like Wieniawski’s Second and Saint-Saëns’s Third concertos, Goldmark’s A minor was once a one-time staple of the repertoire; it’s only occasionally heard these days. Sarah Chang has made a bracing and expressive recording (with James Conlon and the Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra on EMI CDC 5 56955 2), so it was surprising that she chose to present a cut version this evening. Admittedly this only affected some transitional passages in the outer movements, though their opportunity for virtuoso display might reasonably have been taken up in a live context.
As it was, this streamlined (27-minute) version received an engaging if occasionally untidy performance, in which wholeheartedness of response was not always balanced by a corresponding control of line and purity of intonation. Davis made much of the often-inventive accompaniment, notably the fugal writing that makes the development sections of the outer movements more than just dutiful components of a textbook design. The ’Andante’ is the expressive heart of the work, and here Chang was in her element – drawing a limpid elegance from the solo part and controlling the movement’s arching intensity with effortless poise. No wonder Davis looked impressed at its close.
Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony’s symphonic coherence is very much up to the conductor to reinforce – particularly in the opening ’Andante’, whose often opaque scoring conceals a sonata-type movement of cumulative power and monumental import. Davis projected these qualities with a keen awareness of the musical trajectory, and found the balance between playfulness and malevolence in the ensuing ’Scherzo’ – though the transition from the ’Trio’ section could have accelerated more evenly. The ’Adagio’ had a passion and expressive amplitude which kept to the right side of fulsome, the coda ethereally floated, while the ’Finale’ was put purposefully through its paces – culminating in a coda whose haywire activity is all the more scintillating at the same underlying pulse.
A compulsive and often insightful performance then, which suggested a rapport between this particular Davis and the LSO that will hopefully be renewed in future seasons.