Othello, Concert Overture, Op.93
Violin Concerto No.1 in G-minor, Op.26
Symphony No.2 in E-flat, Op.63
Nikolaj Znaider (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Mark Elder
Reviewed by: David Truslove
Reviewed: 11 February, 2018
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
This second LSO evening featuring Elgar’s completed Symphonies under Sir Mark Elder included a searing account of No.2 that made it difficult to believe the work misfired at its premiere. No fear of that here. From the opening measures Elder was in his element. The first movement swept by with an assurance, clarity of line and unbroken vigour that was revelatory, Elder masterfully navigating through Elgar’s dense writing to produce wonderful buoyancy and uninhibited exuberance. Even through the mysterious central panel, which can seem like icy wastes, Elder kept things moving (some might say wilfully ignoring tempo directions), double bass pizzicatos and bass drum creating a chilling mood. From then on Elder built towards a tremendous restatement, blazing a trail through the closing pages with a spontaneity that made you hold your breath.
The vitality between Elder and the LSO continued in the spacious second movement, given with accommodating tempos, the mood nicely caught by Jose Vegara’s soulful oboe, with brass and timpani contributing to a shattering climax. Woodwinds were delightfully impish in the Scherzo, the “demonic forces” more comic than menacing, its climax superbly negotiated with timpani and percussion to the fore. And so to a well-shaped Finale, taken forward with purpose and intensity suggesting Elder was as much inspired by Shelley’s “Spirit of Delight” as the composer was. Elder’s rapport with the LSO enabled a performance of absolute conviction over its hour-long duration.
Earlier, Nikolaj Znaider had been outstanding in Bruch, tenderness (without sentimentality) and passion allied to superb artistry, ennobling the Adagio and calibrating its dynamics to perfection, at once rapt and poetic. The outer movements were no less assured, with nothing sounding remotely routine, and Elder providing compliant and sensitive support. The evening had begun with Dvořák’s Othello Overture, evoking emotional states within Shakespeare’s tragedy, closing with a rousing coda to depict Othello’s suicide. It’s a wonder this tuneful work is not played more often, and if its fire-in-the-belly moments were a little underplayed there was plenty of warmth and eloquence, woodwinds especially.