Znaider, Davis and the LSO – 24 February

Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor
Symphony No.9 in D minor

Nikolaj Znaider (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 24 February, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Anyone who heard Colin Davis’s recent performances of Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony will have known what to expect from his Ninth – except that, in its sheer flow and concentration, this latter was Bruckner interpretation on the verge of greatness.

Not quite in the first movement, however, where marginal unsteadiness of pace was evident at times. The very opening was portentousness of the Beckettian kind, as brass conferred uncertainly with each other over a metaphysical void. Too much anticipation made the initial climax a trifle underwhelming in consequence. The second theme was broadly, humanely shaped,with a telling transition to the codetta theme, internal detail judiciously brought out. Cumulative anxiety was painstakingly assembled over the development, though the outcome – as the movement effectively blows itself apart – lacked something in sheer terror. The remainder of the movement was finely realised, with a coda of searing, implacable force.

Davis found just the right combination of weight and incisiveness for the scherzo, witty and ruthless in a way new to Bruckner, though the violins’ manic repeated figures at the close of each half could have had even more emphasis. The tempo relationship with the trio was spot-on, resulting in an interlude of fugitive gestures and half remembrances.

Whether or not Davis has seen the surviving material for the finale, or heard any of the realisations, his account of the ’Adagio’ suggests complete conviction that Bruckner could not have left the work any other way. From the polarisation of fire and ice in the opening paragraph, through the effortful progress of the main theme and its offshoots, to the tortuous discontinuities of the central span – this was Bruckner conducting of unassertive mastery. How wise Davis was not to overplay the build-up to theclimactic dischord, ensuring that the coda’s waves of repose made their effect without undue prompting. A tangible reluctance on the part of the audience to break the silence confirmed that the music had had its intended effect.

The first half had seen Nikolaj Znaider give a committed, if at times histrionic account of Bruch’s First Concerto – expressively overwrought in the preludial opening movement (though Davis’s nuancing of detail was a delight), and lacking contrast in the twin themes of the ’Adagio’. A broken string seconds into the Finale may have brought a change in focus, as the finale seemed freer and less calculated in impact. Worth staying put for the encore: a superbly played and thoughtfully rendered account of Ysaye’s Sonata-Ballade, the third of his six solo sonatas – which together are integral to that limited instrumental repertoire where technique and expression come into overtly musical accord.

  • Click here to read a review of Bruckner 6 from the LSO and Colin Davis

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