Sir Colin Davis – 75th-Birthday Concert

The Trojans – Royal Hunt and Storm; Vallon sonore
Chant du ménestrel
Taras Bulba
Concerto for three pianos in F, K242
Bachianas brasileiras No.1 – Préludio

James Naughtie (compère)

Ian Bostridge (tenor)
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)
Sarah Chang (violin)
Imogen Cooper, Mitsuko Uchida & Radu Lupu (pianos)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 25 September, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

A happy occasion and on the day itself, which reflected Sir Colin’s “modest and unassuming” persona. The focus therefore was on the music and perhaps emphasised the time taken up attending to Royal protocol, platform moves and introductions: 80 minutes of music was played in a two-and-three-quarter-hour timeframe. Villa-Lobos’s tedious piece, for cello and seven more cellos, seemed an odd choice: not a composer associated with Davis, who wasn’t conducting it anyway, and ’Slava’ returned immediately for Glazunov’s altogether more engaging Song of the Minstrel. Sarah Chang’s was a syrupy delivery of gypsy airs; her thin-toned and tight bravura passages suggested she is some way off emulating daredevil fiddlers of yesteryear.

There was, of course, much to enjoy, not least Sir Colin’s virile, passionate and refined conducting, his baton weaving expressive curves and inspiring both orchestra and listener. Davis’s natural musicianship has always been a source of pleasure and satisfaction. The man himself is thoughtful and open in conversation, at recording sessions and rehearsals he is hard-working and rousing – I recall him training the Guildhall School Orchestra and turning Sibelius 7 from a relative shambles into something world-class in just two hours – and come the breaks he is approachable and genial. James Naughtie introduced Davis as “hero and friend”, and when we all sang “Happy Birthday”, it was Colin rather than Sir Colin at the ’as applicable’ bit.

Berlioz began the evening, a thrilling Royal Hunt. Time and again, Davis’s rapport with this composer makes even the smallest details significant. Antiphonal off-stage horns and more backstage brass worked a treat; the choir was missed albeit heard in one’s inner ear. Ian Bostridge’s light timbre came into its own for Hylas’s song.

Having three poetic pianists together was special. Minor Mozart K242 might be but the slow movement was ethereal. I’m not sure I actually heard Radu Lupu play a note – he had ’Part III’, the ’easy’ one – but he’s such a great artist that he’s worth listening to even when inaudible. A snatch of “Happy Birthday” was sneaked into the first movement cadenza.

That leaves a marvellous Taras Bulba, the LSO in swaggering form. Davis conducted Taras in March last year – for the first time? As before he has the measure of the music’s clamour and intimacy and Janacek’s quixotic scoring and mobile structures. That Sir Colin seemed to find references to Tapiola and Symphonie fantastique shouldn’t surprise. The expression ran from the visceral to the sweetest of sounds, from the graphic to the hypnotic, from reminiscence to redemption – a challenging and individual view, one compelling, authoritative and revealing.

May there be many more years of Colin Davis’s non-egotistical and rewarding music-making.

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