Prom 71: 13th September 2001 – The Rose Lake

The Oceanides
The Rose Lake
Symphony No.6 in F (Pastoral)

London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 13 September, 2001
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

For their Prom appearance this season, Sir Colin Davis and the LSO chose a programme of subtle contrasts. Unique in his output for its non-Finnish mythology as it may be, Sibelius’s The Oceanides has a cumulative momentum that typifies the major works of his maturity. Its control and resolution of material, poised between the chromatic and the modal, marks out the beginning of a process that was to culminate in the Seventh Symphony. Davis encouraged a reading of breadth and inevitability, moving with unforced control to the spellbinding climax. Would that more of today’s composers who claim a rapprochement with tonality had but a fraction of Sibelius’s mastery of means.

Davis gave the premiere of Sir Michael Tippett’s The Rose Lake at a memorable concert back in 1995, and has revived it on numerous occasions. The consistency of his approach was borne out by the present performance – rapt and long-breathed, if with a touch too much emphasis on the rhapsodic, discursive nature of the material. What began life as Tippett’s Fifth Symphony mutated into a ’song without words for orchestra’, though with a sureness of focus that continues his quirky but logical symphonism. As with the other works of his last creative decade, Tippett touches on tonal centres directly yet unexpectedly: at the close of the work, the feeling that a powerful but intangible process has been experienced is inescapable. The LSO were committed to Tippett’s alternation of the laconic and the ecstatic, with the rotatom players performing feats of physical dexterity.

No conductor post-Wood and Sargent can have performed Beethoven’s ’Pastoral’ at the Proms with the frequency of Colin Davis. His fifth account in thirty-four years brought an enviable control but little sense of pantheist radiance. Tempi were swift but never headlong, giving the ’Scene by the Brook’ an attractive lilt – the counterpoint of birdsong plaintively realised – and the ’Peasants Merrymaking’ a sturdy, amiable gait. Yet the opening movement lacked any real sense of emotional involvement, the ’Storm’ passed by forcefully but hardly elementally, while the final ’Thanksgiving’ proceeded beneficently if blandly to its conclusion. The quality of the LSO’s playing was rarely in doubt, but its not hard to imagine a more fervent response had Davis been intent on probing the music’s depths rather than merely acknowledging its hallowed status. The audience seemed appeased but hardly moved, but then this is music that should go beyond the comforting to the cathartic.

  • BBC Radio 3 re-broadcast Friday, 21 September, at 2 o’clock

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