LSO Karl Jenkins Premiere

Quirk [LSO Centenary Commission: World premiere]
Symphony No.72 in D
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77

Gareth Davies (flutes)
Neil Percy (percussion)
John Alley (keyboards)

Gordan Nikolitch (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 6 February, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

For the third of its four commissions for various Principal players, the LSO turned to Karl Jenkins. His Quirk, for percussion, several types of flute and four different keyboards (and a standard symphony orchestra) is a three-movement, rather extravagant piece lasting 25 minutes. It’s a likeable enough confection that is something of a cut and paste job. Johns Adams and Williams are suggested in the ‘Snap’ first movement – chugging minimalism and a palls-on-repetition film-like tune are this movement’s planks; a piano cadenza is simply plonked in. ‘Raga Religioso’ seems like a trip up the Amazon. Musically it’s too long, too static, and ends up note-spinning; the luxuriant string chords reminded of Gershwin’s Cuban Overture. The harmonium’s few notes in this movement seemed out of proportion to the cost of importing the instrument. The dearth of recent percussion concertos meant that the finale’s opening salvo contained no novelty, and if the racy music of ‘Chasing the Goose …’ proved engaging, it was partly because it inclined to Britten’s Canadian Carnival. The appearance of a Honky Tonk piano suggested the “St Trinian’s” films – Malcolm Arnold, over 40 years ago! Good sport Sir Colin Davis led a wholly excellent premiere … but, composing shouldn’t be this easy.

With joy to the Haydn symphony, deliciously inventive, a charming divertimento that is not ‘great’ Haydn (although it seemed so on this occasion). Sir Colin relished the music’s wit and the various LSO soloists were in prime form (violin, flute, cello, double bass); John Alley embellished on his fifth keyboard of the evening (harpsichord) and the four horn-players were deft.

Brahms’s Violin Concerto then received an inspired performance. After a spacious, imposing orchestral introduction, Gordan Nikolitch entered in fiery mood. Sir Colin took his cue and galvanised the orchestra; sparks flew. All over in just 37 minutes (40 is an average), but never rushed, Nikolitch, who arrives without ego or hype, gave an innately musical account, sensitive, colourful, one vividly communicative that brushed-off any cobwebs an oft-played work like this can accrue. A ‘wild’ account of Joachim’s cadenza nearly came off the rails, but Nikolitch was aflame and it mattered not. Roy Carter initiated the second movement with an intense oboe solo; and the finale, Hungarian gypsies to the fore, was launched attacca with Nikolitch and Davis eyeing each other up. We may know Nikolitch best as the LSO’s Leader, but he is also a foremost soloist, one who ‘goes for it’ without show or mannerism and with enviable technique. This was a performance to treasure.

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