Sarah Chang is
the sort of violinist about whom rumours of greatness abound; then again,
in her case, many of these rumours are true. The late Dorothy de Lay
was so impressed when she heard her play that she immediately offered
to teach her for free.
The Brahms was, then, one of those performances that
was always going to be amazing, and Chang’s was indeed beautiful; her
tone had an endearing sweetness whilst her technical ability and intonation
were impeccable. Her style can be quite aggressive, however, and it
didn’t allow for the tenderness found in either Vengerov’s or Sitkovetsky’s
playing, yet her skillful interpretation was not weakened by this.
However, as a performance of a ‘concerto’, I was unconvinced.
The programme notes took great pains to describe how Brahms intended
his concerto to be a dialogue between soloist and orchestra; indeed
this is evident itself in the music – for example, the long oboe solo
at the beginning of the second movement which the violin does not ever
exactly repeat but instead develops. Yet this was a dialogue in which
one side – the orchestra - had been gagged. The violinist must have,
of course, a certain prerogative but I don’t believe this should be
mistaken for total dominance over the orchestra: it is the music that
is the most important element and the melody should be asserted whilst
any accompaniment plays a lesser role, irrelevant of instrumentation.
Yet time and time again during this performance, orchestral
melodic lines were drowned out by accompanying figures on the solo violin
and, to my frustration, Davis acted to encourage Chang and further hushed
the orchestra. A dialogue cannot occur when one side is singing but
the other whispering.
The most enjoyable element of the second half was simply
the opportunity to hear The Planets – usually found in youth
orchestra programmes - in the hands of the LSO.
‘Mars’ was unapologetically fast (Davis almost having
to conduct in two rather than five) and blissfully malevolent, and an
unusual orchestral layout - which seated the violas, ‘cellos and basses
all together on the left of the orchestra (behind the firsts) -made
for a forceful bass line.
‘Jupiter’ had its anthems well and truly milked and
although ‘Mercury’ was a little staid and clumsy, each planet was well-characterized,
from a serene ‘Venus’ to a disconcerting ‘Neptune’. I could not help
feeling, however, that for all the vivacity of the performance, the
orchestra would rather have been playing something else.