LSO Dmitri Smirnov Premiere

Triple Concerto No.2, for double bass, harp and violin, Op.139 [LSO Centenary Commission: World premiere]
Symphony No.2 in C minor (Resurrection)

Rinat Ibragimov (double bass)
Bryn Lewis (harp)
Gordan Nikolitch (violin)

Laura Claycomb (soprano)
Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano)

London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 26 May, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

This concert contained nearly 120 minutes of music. If quantity had been matched by quality it would have been a very good one.

Dmitri Smirnov, born 1948, has already reached Op.139. His Triple Concerto No.2 is no masterpiece, but at least this large-scale work, just over half-an-hour, scored for three soloists, strings, wind, trumpets and a battery of percussion, was never less than interesting and, sometimes, rather more than that.

After the three sonorous plucked chords with which the piece opens there is an extended melody for the three soloists interrupted by a cri de coeur from the orchestra, which leads to a series of brusque contrasts, such as a visionary, fragmentary passage for the soloists alone (was it really necessary for Andrew Davis to conduct this?). These abrupt, almost shocking juxtapositions recur throughout, soliloquy topped off with a tango, nocturnal fragments rudely interrupted in unexpected ways. In the slow movement the double bass circles around a few notes (like the opening of Sibelius’s Symphony No.4), the violin enters at the top of its register, there is an outburst capped by bells, an episode of almost Wagnerian richness, and a cinematic fade-out.

In the finale similar (maybe, by now, too predictable) juxtapositions: a second Piazzolla-like theme punctuated by two orchestral shrieks, the three soloists playing concertante, then parody, and the pace slows right down to the conclusion. It received an outstanding performance from (UK-domiciled) Smirnov’s fellow-Russians, Gordan Nikolitch and Rinat Ibragimov, and Bryn Lewis, all principals of the LSO.

Of all the live performances of Mahler’s Second Symphony I’ve heard, this one I would least like to resurrect, not least for the rarity of the LSO playing below par. Davis’s tempos seemed funereal in the wrong sense. The first movement may have originally been called “Funeral Rites” but this was a plodding, pedestrian, literal, even plain boring account, and the succeeding Ländler was little better: flat footed and totally devoid of charm.

Slightly better were “St Anthony’s Fishes” in the third movement, but the brass chording in Urlicht was way below what one expects of this orchestra; to be fair, Davis’s flaccid beat gave the section precious little help. After various hiatuses with the off-stage brass, redemption finally came in the form of the London Symphony Chorus, which was impressively secure. Michelle DeYoung had a certain presence but Laura Claycomb made little impression. As for Davis, it was quite extraordinary to witness so complete a disjunction between his flailing gestures and what was actually coming back from the orchestra. One of the LSO’s rare miscalculations.

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