Another night, another concert. But of course when that orchestra is the LSO and under the direction of Sir Colin Davis things are far from just routinely chugging along. The programme itself stretching from Haydn’s Symphony No 93 written in 1791 to Nielsen’s Symphony No3 written in 1911 via Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto has to be one thrilling ride through over one hundred years of European music. The orchestra managed to create three distinct soundworlds as befitting the range of moods and sensitivities of each composer. Proving that the orchestra hasn’t got an auto pilot like default sound but is flexible in reflection to the wide repertoire.
My joy at modern instrument orchestras playing Mozart and Haydn is not exactly secret. I totally hate period ensembles that have robbed the balls off these wonderful compositions and give them a half life on stage complete with crude horns. The LSO under brisk but seated Davis gave us a focused sound that took in its stride the playfulness of Haydn’s writing and created an elegant edifice that never became self indulgent or academic. The teasing pizzicato playing connected it directly to the Nielsen, despite the huge differences in sonority. When he demanded Allegro, he got a dancing response from the players and when the Minuet arrived, the teasing exchanges between winds and strings made this a feast for the eyes and ears. The feeling in the auditorium was of celebration and the genuinely thunderous applause sealed the deal.
For the Nielsen Symphony the LSO gave us a much more dry sound, not as lyrical to start off with, almost giving a modernist very Nordic sound to the first movement. The soundscape was as expansive and beautiful as one would imagine an evening would be at a cold abandoned beach in Denmark. The pizzicato of the strings against the reedy and evocative sound of the piccolo created more environmental images in our heads. Sir Colin, surely drove the brass to play with emphatic pride but avoided at all costs Mahlerian hyperbole. The Andante Pastorale of the second movement did drive us more into the Danish countryside that was the formative influence in so much of Nielsen’s writing. The soprano (Lucy Hall) and the baritone (Marcus Farnsworth) were placed amongst the members of the orchestra, the tremolo of the strings providing a filigree backdrop for their vocalism. The closing movements were a triumphal mix of stillness and urgency. The finale was so rousing as to have a resounding and very loud bravo! echo even before Davis put his baton down. He was called back to the stage three times in a wave after wave of applause.
After the interval we were treated to a performance of utter sophistication and unapologetic beauty. Mitsuko Uchida does not need introductions when it comes to playing Beethoven or Mozart; she is a specialist per excellence and has been in demand for over 30 years. But despite her considerable pedigree I was totally thrown by the brilliance of her playing and the obvious rapport with Davis and the orchestra. When the three of them meet live, something very special happens, the chemistry is unmistakable.
Her playing over all was a perfectly judged balance of assertiveness and sweetness. She did not bash her instrument like a mad woman just to show she can play loudly, but she used the full range of colour it provided her with and indeed was not afraid to give Argerich like arpeggios at full tilt. Dressed in yellow gold trousers and top, with a transparent cornflower blue organza jacket, she obviously enjoyed listening to the warm elegiac sound of the LSO as the accompanied her, crossing her arms in approval while bobbing her head to the music.
She gave a unique sense of mystery to the first movement, almost as she knew a secret Beethoven whispered in her ear, but did not want to reveal it to us, but wanted us to keep on guessing. The Adagio had the fluency of one would expect, but with an almost vocal line…it would not have been out of place if she started singing alongside the very lyrical, attentive playing she gave us. Such was the sweet caress by her that when she introduced the opening theme for the third movement without a break, a few people around us jumped at the sudden change. Again the dialogue between orchestra and soloist was captivating. The warm and totally idiomatic sound of the orchestra created the perfect backdrop and contrasting material for all the variations on that one triumphant theme she played again and again. Every time with a new voice, every time with a new dialect. This was the summation of the careers of two great musicians and an orchestra at the top of their game, truly exceptional. When a lot of capital cities would have nothing more to boast on a Sunday evening, than an episode of a reality TV show (and amusingly it was the final of the UK X Factor tonight) London can offer an almost sold our concert hall with an amazing cast of musicians playing from the heart.
The same programme is repeated on Tuesday 13th and will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, if nothing else do tune in!
Some tweets from the evening