LSO New Season (14 September)

The Oceanides
Symphonie espagnole, Op.21
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)

Maxim Vengerov (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 14 September, 2003
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The LSO opened its new season with an audience-friendly programme, one that brought not only a full house but also a queue for returns. The box-office must light up when Maxim Vengerov is listed. He certainly put a show on. Best not to look at his facial and bodily contortions though – his straining efforts to overcome the really difficult bits is unconvincing. He can play, we know that, and while looking away does improve things, one still hears too much application. He offers a caricature of past masters – and his own early promise. Pyrotechnics aside, his attack is often so visceral as to be grotesque, while his sweet melodiousness appears contrived rather than innate. Less is more. He and Colin Davis enjoyed exaggerating the Spanish rhythms of the finale.

With Sir Colin alone, we returned to purely musical values, a natural and unforced (excepting some overloud trumpets and trombones) ’New World’, at its very best in the famous ’Largo’, which here, launched by a blissful cor anglais solo from Christine Pendrill, and sustained with a suitably broad tempo, became a still pool of consciousness. Very moving. In the other movements, although there are more painful sides of Dvorák’s anticipation on arriving in New York, and his heartfelt homesickness, that can be brought out, Davis and the LSO, after too comfortable an introduction, developed a buoyant and infectious account.

Davis is one of the few conductors who gives Dvorák his due by playing the three-part exposition in one pulse (it works a treat), although the lack of a repeat was a surprise. The Scherzo had both power and light and shade, while the Trio was delectable. Some darker forces were evident in the volatile finale.

Another adage – Silence is Golden. Some would have been welcome after the symphony’s diminution; but, no, despite Davis’s baton being aloft, someone crashed in with applause, and the moment was lost.

The abrupt changes of atmosphere in Sibelius’s Oceanides were well captured, a compelling performance encapsulating spring-day freshness and a fury that anticipates Tapiola. Davis’s inexorable conducting of Sibelius’s economical development, and flecking the subtle if vivid scoring, let Sibelius’s music speak for itself – with a little help from his friend.

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