LSO Centenary Concert opened with the world premiere of Dmitri Smirnov’s
Triple Concerto No. 2, Op 139 (2003)
- called ‘LSO Centenary Concertante’ in the programme. A twenty-five
minute work, it is scored for an unusual combination of soloists -
double bass, harp and violin.
is the skill of the composer that these three seemingly disparate
instruments complemented each other very well, making for some novel
sound combinations alien to the human ear. This radical score deliberately
avoids being classified as ‘a masterpiece’ being far closer to what
may be termed an ‘alienpiece’ and Smirnov’s love of William Blake’s
poetry shines and shudders through.
orchestral writing of the three sections does not follow a single
linear narrative of an introduction, development and conclusion but
a series of fragmentary vignettes made up of collage and montage,
negating any sense of a single and unified style. Multiplicity and
heterogeneity – buzzwords of the post modern – could be ascribed to
this ‘abstract’ work - abstract because essentially this work is about
the three soloists play as an integrated trio they also play in radical
styles with distinctly foreign sounding voices. The shrill, almost
metallic soprano of the violin, for example, contrasts with the mellow
mezzo-soprano of the harp and basso profundo of the double bass. Often
these diverse sounds suddenly became unified sounding like a single
voice; even a single instrument. Gordan Nikolitch, Rinat Ibragimov
and Bryn Lewis - all principals of the LSO – engaged and
disengaged from each other (and the LSO) with great artistry and elasticity.
the first movement – Con moto
– the LSO strings had a wiry brittle tone sounding uncannily like
an out-of-tune, scratch orchestra, with the soloists running circles
around these painful sounds: the sensation was of music meant to wound.
The percussion had the jaggedness of barbed wire. The Lento
was unsettling and angst-ridden, giving a sense of unease with the
audience clearly being on edge. The concluding Presto
had elements of a Hitchcock frenzied film track with the soloists
playing as if having a panic attack and then slowly unwinding in to
a contemplative somnolence. Orchestra and soloists played this difficult
new work impeccably throughout, thanks to Davis’ attentive direction.
Kreizberg and the London Symphony Orchestra gave one of the most rugged
and darkly played performances I have ever heard in concert of Mahler’s
Resurrection Symphony (Barbican Centre,
March 16th 2003). In contrast, Andrew Davis’ palette was more sombre
and subdued, with the playing of the LSO being more subtle and refined.
This illustrates the protean nature of Mahler’s Resurrection
Symphony, which is open to a multiplicity of interpretations
of tempi and nuances allowing the conductor full artistic license.
Davis’ conducting of the Allegro maestoso was broad and measured
without the pitfalls of the plodding tempo or pedestrian phrasing
that can mar this movement. The central climax was perfectly built
up and unleashed with intense impact. The concluding passages for
swooning strings were tastefully kept in check, devoid of sentimental
Davis took the Ländler: Andante moderato – as marked
by Mahler: Sehr gemüchlich.
Nie eilen [Very moderate. Never rushing]. He galvanised
the LSO strings to play with a distilled sedateness making the music
glow. The passages for pizzicato played strings were delicate and
tranquil with all the intimacy of a string quartet. The Scherzo was
conducted with verve with Davis securing sprightly, lilting rhythms
galvanising his forces into producing blaring burlesque sounds.
Urlicht, mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung
was simply sublime, projecting her warm and radiant voice in full
bloom from the back row of the chorus, together with the eloquent,
more reserved soprano of Laura Claycomb. The concluding twenty minutes
were perfectly paced, building up inexorably to the final choral climax.
opening of Im Tempo des Scherzo: Wild herausfahrend
was just that with the LSO exploding in an exultant outburst of spectacular
sounds. The subdued passages for off-stage brass and timpani very
often sound muffled and indistinct but here they had great clarity
as well as attack: I cannot recall hearing the off-stage brass and
timpani so convincingly done and played with such crisp definition.
Allegro energico was a shattering experience
of overwhelming force, resurrecting the audience quiet literally!
The LSO Chorus sung with exemplary precision, progressing from an
eerie hush to a torrent of blazing grace; the male voices in particular
were very powerful.
all the concert performances of Mahler’s Second
Symphony I have heard in recent years, Davis’ Resurrection most truly represented the exultation and
awe of Resurrection. Davis and his superlative forces rightly
received a fervent standing ovation.
Gustav Mahler Second Symphony; Stefania Woytowicz (soprano), Lucretia West
(contralto) Wiener Philharmoniker, Claudio Abbado (conductor), Salzburg,
Grosses Festpielhaus, 14.8. 1965; Arkadia ADD CDHP 542.2