LSO/Harding Midori – Britten & Brahms

Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.15
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73

Midori (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Harding

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 6 April, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Midori. Photograph: and Dan BorrisThis was the seventh of eight events taking place over two months (the last one is on 8 May) that have been termed “Midori: Artist Portrait”. There have been some recitals, some ‘conversations’ and a concert, this being the second of two. It is always a pleasure to hear this consummate artist as part of a short-measure, overture-less concert.

Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto originates from early in his career (1938-9) and was completed when he (and Peter Pears) arrived in Canada . The solo part was written for Antonio Brosa and he was the soloist in the premiere with the New York Philharmonic under John Barbirolli. Midori has known and admired the work for many years but only started playing it fairly recently. Her musicality made it a great success for her. Throughout, her idea of line and approach made the work compelling, with a sense of purpose. The upper range of the violin is pushed to its edge in the central scherzo movement, and produced taut playing. The finale is a Passacaglia. The solo violin has no fireworks but is instead imbued with lyricism; the restraint that Midori brought to it meant that one felt more because of it. The soberness and intensity of the piece as a whole left a powerful impact.

Brahms’s Second Symphony is a much more regular piece in the concert hall. It was composed very quickly and within a year of his long-gestated First, which took two decades to complete. Its outer movements are sunny affairs. Daniel Harding eschewed the first movement’s lengthy (and important) exposition repeat. What was apparent in this outing was the clarity (antiphonal violins helped) and polish of the LSO’s playing though Harding’s sense of direction was wayward.

In the first movement horns went for the jugular after the tranquil opening. Some wayward woodwind ensemble did not detract from the brooding mood established by the cellos in the Adagio but Harding could have explored the darkness more. The natural élan of the third movement did not materialise but the finale was genuinely exciting but lacked fizz later. The close was energetic but excitement in its sweep was missing.

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