LSO/Sir Colin Davis – 22 October

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Daphnis et Chloë

Maxim Vengerov (violin)

London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 October, 2003
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

With both Anne-Sophie Mutter and André Previn under the weather, Maxim Vengerov and Sir Colin Davis came to the rescue, Mendelssohn’s concerto replacing Korngold’s. For the record, the repeat of this concert (on the 23rd) was cancelled.

Allowing he was due a night off, Vengerov, typically himself in distracting facial and bodily contortions, was somewhat sloppy with rhythms. The first movement cadenza was commanding, though, and there was some impressive spiccato playing leading into the first movement coda. Overall, it was left to the orchestra and conductor to supply the more natural expression.

Given the concerto seemed under-rehearsed (understandable given the circumstances) – there was a minor hiatus in the first movement and the ultimate bars lacked culmination – it was surprising to have an encore, the Méditation from Massenet’s Thaïs, which lacked inspiration however generous the intention.

Although Colin Davis has long been a sympathetic conductor of French opera (including Massenet), his forays into the country’s orchestral music are not so frequent, at least in London. Davis is his own man; his time-taken, slow-burn approach brings glorious dividends. The stopwatch might have reported a 13-minute Faune and a Daphnis lasting the best part of an hour, but to simply say these were ’slow’ renditions would be to miss what was actually revealed during the process. The flautist opened Faune without signal before Sir Colin unobtrusively took the reins for a rapt, sensuous account that grew to a centre of passion, one even more expansive.

Daphnis was unfolded as a processional, Davis perceiving the ballet score’s symphonic whole; episodes were made indivisible and as logical as a Sibelius symphony (of which Davis is a master, of course). While there were a few moments of uncertainty and imprecision in the playing, it was nothing compared to the absorbing nature of the performance itself; nothing seemed superfluous. Sir Colin’s fizzing pace for the closing bacchanal, apposite in terms of scenario if not the musical through-line so carefully set-up hitherto, found the LSO in scintillating form. The members of the LSO Chorus were lusty revellers.

The audience seemed spellbound, save the fidgety gent near me who failed to hear or didn’t care about his squeaking shoes. Long may Sir Colin’s Indian summer continue to entrance and enlighten us.

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