LSO Richard Bissill Premiere

Sinfonia Concertante [LSO Centenary Commission: World premiere]
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Symphony No 6 in D, Op.60

Rod Franks (trumpet)
David Pyatt (horn)
Andrew Marriner (clarinet)

Maxim Vengerov (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 29 September, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Following a performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony in St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Symphony Orchestra gave its first Barbican concert of the new season. This was “The Lord Mayor’s Concert” in aid of the LSO’s Discovery Programme – which last year enabled 30,000 people to create and perform music with the LSO’s musicians. Other beneficiaries including the Almeida Theatre, the Whitechapel Gallery and the London Schools Symphony Orchestra.

This monster two-and-a-half-hour programme included the premiere of one of the LSO’s Centenary commissions, Richard Bissill’s Sinfonia Concertante, lasting around 22 minutes, is written for the probably unique combination of trumpet, horn and clarinet. Bissill, co-principal horn of the London Philharmonic, has composed a three-movement piece that is accessible, well orchestrated and obviously the work of a practising musician. This is music that communicates to a wide audience. It received a scorching performance from the LSO’s principals and their colleagues – Rod Franks exchanging his trumpet for the flugelhorn in the bluesy central movement – with the composer in attendance.

The Beethoven was another matter entirely. Rarely has the opening Allegro ma non troppo seemed such an interminable plod. It was not just the somniferous tempo but, crucially, the lack of any discernible forward momentum left the music fatally becalmed and made this such a bore despite some excellent, carefully calibrated contributions from the orchestra. Even at this funereal tempo Davis remains a natural Beethovenian; Vengerov, for all his ‘great violinist’ status, is not. The notes were there – often mesmerically perfect in the more stratospheric reaches – but the spirit was sadly lacking except, fitfully, in the Larghetto. The overlong cadenzas, Vengerov’s own, were despatched with enormous panache. The finale’s joyous main theme – marked piano – was played by Vengerov at a clod-hopping forte, with little joy or light and shade.

Dvořák’s 6th Symphony, the next in Davis’s ongoing series of LSO Live recordings of this composer (symphonies 7-9 have already appeared), received a turbo-charged performance. The LSO made famous recordings of this adorable piece with Kertesz and Rowicki; however, on this occasion, enthusiasm substituted for finesse. Davis’s opening Allegro non tanto (no repeat) was sprightly to a degree, leaving little elbow room for warmth or relaxation, and the movement tended to overheat, notably in the coda, which was frog-marched to its conclusion. The slow movement, however, was rather wonderful: relaxed, warm, and with all the affection missing previously; there was a notably fine flute solo at the close from Gareth Davis. The scherzo, a Furiant, powerfully given, lacked the necessary precision and finesse, though the trio was tenderly done. With the finale we were back in turbo-charged mode, the playing raucous and unfocussed with ill-judged balances. The repeat performance can only get better.

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