Sonata for Four Horns
The Rose Lake
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Timothy Jones, David Pyatt, John Ryan & Jonathan Lipton (horns)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 27 February, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
It’s a shame that the LSO’s tribute to Sir Michael Tippett in his centenary year could not be more extensive than just two half-concerts (the second is on 10 March). Oh for a Tippett symphony! Any (understandable) box-office doubts seemed unjustified with this no-soloist, no-concerto concert (as well as one of Beethoven’s less heroic works); a more than decent audience turned up.
Tippett’s Sonata for Four Horns (1955) is a gem of a piece, rich in ideas and imagination, a concise 15-minute, four-movement work of song and allusion, of layering and perspective, the heart of the music being the lyrical, poetic slow movement. The LSO’s horn quartet did the work proud, a nimble, expressive, refulgent and well-balanced account.
Sir Colin Davis then conducted an impressive performance of The Rose Lake, which he and the LSO premiered in 1995 and recorded for RCA (and currently available at mid-price). Tippett’s swansong is a magical work, one immediately suggestive and atmospheric, a “song without words for orchestra” (Tippett’s subtitle) and inspired by the Rose Lake in Senegal and its colour-transformation under the midday sun. Tippett’s use of the orchestra is characteristic yet distilled, new, fresh and utterly beguiling. This performance’s 30-minute span (a little longer than before?) was compelling (you could hear a pin drop), the suggestive, lyrical, eruptive and ecstatic aspects all done justice too, so too Tippett’s orchestral genius. As the music inched towards what will be a witty exit, Davis and the LSO’s strings seemed to peer into a darker, personal aspect of the music, that of an aged (88) composer tying-off his life’s work; here the music touched a consciousness beyond the pictorial.
Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony received an imposing reading, one muscular and weighty (with more or less a full string complement and no lack of vibrato!), one that was at its best in the Adagio, here a genuine ‘slow movement’, eloquent and rapt. Maybe in the fast music the overall sound was a little too thick (and certainly the timpani could have been more incisive and the hand-stopping of notes less audible) and the woodwinds didn’t bubble and interject ideally. If the lack of timbral translucence was sometimes a handicap, there was also a depth and dignity that restored to the music its largesse and bite. Sir Colin Davis’s vigorous gestures suggested a relationship with Beethoven as strong as ever, and something of a tonic, too, as his lively response to applause (including the orchestra’s) displayed.