Messiaen & Mozart … Parry & Brahms

Un sourire
Piano Concerto No.17 in G, K453
Elegy for Brahms
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98

Louis Lortie (piano)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis

Reviewed by: Richard Landau

Reviewed: 8 August, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Sir Andrew Davis at the BBC Proms. Photograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouSir Andrew Davis’s conducting of Un sourire – which Messiaen composed in 1989 for the 200th-anniversary of Mozart’s death (1991) – made an appropriate as well as affecting opening to this BBC Prom. Alternating blocks of sound – tender string episodes, penetrating percussion, winds and horns in tandem – distil, into 10 minutes, Messiaen’s familiar style and presage Éclairs sur l’Au-delà… (Illuminations of the Beyond). Under Davis’s sensitive direction the string passages – accompanied by some excellent playing from Martin Owen on horn and Richard Simpson on oboe – carried much emotional weight, indeed achieving something like transcendence in the final section.

Louis Lortie. Photograph: KassKaraThis very individualistic tribute to Mozart was an imaginative and satisfying prelude to Mozart’s wondrous G major Piano Concerto in a very appealing performance, not just on account of Louis Lortie’s engaging contribution, but also because of notable playing throughout from the BBCSO’s wind section. The rapport between conductor and performers was a constant delight. In the outer movements Lortie played with a neat blend of wit and élan, delightful left-hand contributions and tasteful decoration caressing the ear. Both darkness and light were adumbrated in the cadenza, before the first movement moved to its sunny close. The Andante was touchingly done, too, a ‘plain-speaking’ approach from Lortie that disavowed any exaggerated poeticism. Davis and Lortie neatly caught the shifting moods of the finale’s variations, and the coda had just the right degree of ebullience.

The concert’s second half began with Hubert Parry’s Elegy for Brahms, written in 1897 but not played until 1918 when Charles Villiers Stanford conducted it at a memorial concert for Parry himself. Andrew Davis led a persuasive, touching and well-prepared reading of music that has inescapable echoes of Wagner, as well as Brahms. The brass and lower strings produced a sonorously mournful aura at the very outset, and there was also some fine clarinet-playing from Katherine Lacy.

Brahms’s Fourth Symphony was less satisfying, lacking restlessness, angst, and the inner tension necessary to realise the work’s dramatic potential and create a convincing sense of wholeness. There was also a repeatedly grating tone from the horns, which made them stand out in a jarring way from the rest of the orchestra.

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