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S & H Concert Review

BY GEORGE! Beethoven, Mozart, Benjamin. Barbican Centre, London, Wednesday, December 4th, 2002 (CC)


By George! is a year-long curated series of concerts with the LSO under the guidance of the composer George Benjamin. As one might expect, the programming was thought provoking, the chosen works being in fruitful interplay and juxtaposition with one another.

Works by Beethoven book-ended the concert. In theory, there should have been the greatest of contrasts between the Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 and the following work, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K414 (1782). Despite a large string section and therefore a weighty sound to the opening of 'Coriolan,' however, dramatic undercurrents were under-projected and motivic development was presented in a matter-of-fact fashion. Beethoven has never been one of Sir Colin's strengths (a strangely articulated 'Eroica' at the Proms some years back sticks in the memory), and the Eighth Symphony further confirmed this impression. The opening celebration of F major was underplayed, the Allegretto Scherzo needed more charm, the Trio lumbered along (illuminated only be some excellent horn playing) and the finale seemed to be running out of steam.

There seemed a distinct contrast between the ever-musical Radu Lupu and Davis' conducting in the Mozart Piano Concerto. If the orchestra sounded low voltage and at a distance from Mozart's delicate intimacies, Lupu played with the utmost sensitivity. The cadenza in the first movement was distinguished by the way in which Lupu drew the audience in to his world, making us hang on to every strand. The Andante was particularly impressive, the piano's entry impeccably weighted, the left hand accompaniments carefully considered and perfectly even. A pity Davis seemed pedestrian in the under-projected Finale.

George Benjamin's 'A Mind of Winter' (1981) is a setting for soprano and orchestra of 'The Snow Man' by Wallace Stevens (it is available on Nimbus NI5643). The composer's skill in orchestration is breathtaking as he initially evokes the snow and ice with glassy string glissandi and disjunct vocal intervals, leading to a desolate space of double bass and violin harmonics filled with woodwind comments. A muted piccolo trumpet represents the snowman, here piercing and desolate. Valdine Anderson was a sensitive interpreter, clean and clear of tone. The smooth emergence of her voice from the orchestral texture was expertly managed, and she negotiated the jagged parts of the vocal line with supreme confidence. Despite the sculpted Mozart of Lupu, 'A Mind of Winter' remained the highlight of the concert.

Colin Clarke

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