Sir Colin and LSO Tackle Nielsen’s Eccentricities, Uchida Highlights Beethoven’s Subtlety

27/05/2011

Haydn, Beethoven, Nielsen: Mitsuko Uchida (piano), London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis (conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 26.5.11 (GDn)

Haydn: Symphony No.99 “The Cat”
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.2
Nielsen: Symphony No.6

Colin Davis has been conducting Haydn symphonies since long before anybody was taking the idea the idea of period performance seriously. Those (paradoxically) new ideas about how to perform the music stand in opposition to a long and vibrant tradition, which retains all its vitality under Davis’ baton. He doesn’t intervene too much in the flow of the music, his role is more to energise and inspire. And even though the string section is relatively large, the results are impressively nimble. Ensemble and tuning were occasional problems, especially in the strings. When Davis spurs them on to loud dynamics that are out of their comfort zone, both the tone and the coordination can suffer.

When it comes to working with soloists, there are distinct advantages to working with the very best. The ensemble problems in the strings continued into the opening tutti of the Beethoven concerto, but when Mitsuko Uchida entered everything changed. From then on the orchestra was note perfect, and the perfection continued after her departure to elevate the Nielsen performance considerably above the Haydn. Do we have Uchida to thank? Who knows, but her performance was certainly inspiring. I hadn’t heard her perform much Beethoven before, and I had wondered if she would have the necessary weight for his strident textures. But Uchida has a knack of setting the agenda on her own terms. As soon as she began, it became clear that I had been asking all the wrong questions. Instead, the issue became whether Beethoven has the required subtly and sophistication for an Uchida performance. He does, of course, and her performance was as convincing as any. She makes impressive musical capital out of questioning Beethoven’s certainties. In the first movement in particular, many of the piano phrases seem to be written as dogmatic statements. But Uchida presents them more as suggestions, as if to say “Is this what the piano should be doing here?” And of course it is, but as a listener you feel that your views have been taken on board, or at least your presence has been acknowledged. Her performance wasn’t note-perfect by any means, there were a good deal of wrong notes, and she got seriously lost a few bars into the first movement cadenza. But none of that detracted from this incredible performance.

Even by Nielsen’s own standards, his Sixth Symphony is an eccentric work. There is nothing you can take for granted here, with the form, the orchestration and the harmony continually taking unpredictable turns into the unknown. There is enough great writing, especially in the first movement to compensate for its many wanton eccentricities. Most of those eccentricities come in the inner movements, and the second in particular gives the uneasy impression that it is all a big joke at the listener’s expense. Full credit though to Colin Davis for tackling this and Nielsen’s other symphonies so late in his career. They all require clear and focussed musical direction, and they certainly get it. This Sixth in particular is a work that presents huge challenges to everybody on the podium and particularly the conductor. The players had obviously done their homework too, because the orchestral playing here was ideal – precise, coordinated and focussed, and without any trace of pedantry, nor, I should add, of resentment at the bizarre challenges to which they were being put, often for only obscure musical gains.

No doubt a recording of this performance of the Sixth Symphony will find its way onto the LSO Live label, and given the quality of the playing it could well turn out to be as good as any on the market. The concert is being repeated on 2 June (with Uchida playing Beethoven’s First Concerto). That concert will be broadcast live on Radio 3. Do tune in, but don’t worry if you’re not in time to catch the Haydn.

Gavin Dixon

 

Comments

Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Usher Hall 2019-2020 Orchestral Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycles __________________________________
  • NEW! Roman River 2019 Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Saffron Opera Group’s Tristan und Isolde on Sunday 15 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Memories of West End Musical Delights __________________________________
  • NEW! CELLIST JOHANNES MOSER IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! CHORUS MASTER STEPHEN DOUGHTY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • REVIEWED! Ron Howard’s Pavarotti in Cinemas 13 July (Preview) and Nationwide (15 July) __________________________________
  • NEW! MULTI-FACETED MUSICIAN JOY LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • ‘MUSICAL MAGIC’: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST HENNING KRAGGERUD __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH LISETTE OROPESA AS SHE RETURNS TO LA OPERA FOR ORFEO ED EURIDICE __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month