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S & H Concert Review

Davis conducts Bruckner: London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, 19th & 22nd February 2002 (MB)

Bruckner is a composer Sir Colin Davis seems to conduct only rarely in London; yet, neither of the concerts I attended suggest he has much to say about the composer. Indeed, unusually for this writer, I find I have little to say about the performances. There were some exquisite moments on both evenings – the adagio of the Sixth, extremely spaciously done, and the scherzo of the Ninth – but largely, despite some commanding playing, these remained strangely earthbound performances, glossily superficial with an urbane feeling for that elusive Brucknerian nobility.

Common to both performances was a brass heavy balance (much in line with how Jochum approached these works) which, particularly during the Sixth symphony, obscured much detail. This was also notable at an early stage during the Ninth where the rising string figuration in the opening bars was virtually inaudible; in a great performance of this symphony it stands out. The LSO were also in variable form on both days: in the Sixth the strings were magnificently full toned (the opening of the adagio was simply sublime), the brass shaky and ill at ease. In the Ninth, it was exactly the opposite – the brass beautifully controlled and glowing, the strings depleted of tone. The recordings from these performances, due out later this year, may tell a different story and I shall look forward to studying them carefully in light of the actual performances.

Prefacing both symphonies were concertos: Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto on the first night, played by Alfred Brendel, and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 on the second, played by Nikolaj Znaider. In every respect, despite lapses in tone, Znaider gave the more compelling performance; Brendel, often thundering away on the keyboard, suffered the lesser technique – at times not so much hitting the wrong notes as eliding them together or just plainly not playing them at all.

What should have been highlights of the season were dreadfully disappointing concerts; my guest for the second night was so deplored by the opening concert he summarily cancelled my invitation to the second.

Marc Bridle


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