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Seen and Heard Concert Review


Shostakovich, Dvorák, Bartók: Leonidas Kavakos (violin); London Symphony Orchestra/Andrey Boreyko, Barbican Hall, 6.10.2005 (CC)



Andrey Boreyko's biography reassures us he is 'one of the most exciting and dynamic conductors to emerge from Eastern Europe in recent years' – later there follows an impressive list of orchestras he has stood in front of, including the Royal Concertgebouw and the Berliner Philharmoniker. For the most part, though, it sounded as if the LSO was less than impressed. Shostakovich's First Symphony (what a graduation piece!) had its moments thanks to some excellent solo contributions, but overall flopped badly. A prime example of this was right at the beginning, when a buffoon-like clarinet spoke after a completely non-descript opening. Ensemble in strings was frequently less than perfect, and the whole piece sounded rather more diffuse than usual. Boreyko, interestingly, seemed to make certain passages sound like Ives – and it sounded like a deliberate ploy. The high jinks of the Scherzo, though, were blunted.

Boreyko went batonless for the slow movement. Solos from both oboe and cello failed to reach the outstanding mark, although as the movement progressed one did, at last, get the feeling that Boreyko understood the work and he paced the climax perfectly. The filmic opening of the finale provided good contrast, but jagged edges of ensemble reared up again. Disappointing, and we were out for the interval by 810pm.

Back to a performance of the Dvorák Violin Concerto that may have done more harm than good for this wonderful work's reputation. Both Suk and Suwanai have, in their different ways, recorded superb accounts. Kavakos, a technician if ever there was one, seemed to set out to 'wow' the audience – surely this is not the piece for that. There was a stand-and-deliver element to his performance at times, too, but what really spoiled the whole affair was a near-complete absence of that echt- Dvorákian nostalgic yearning.

Touches of literalism marred the slow movement, a movement that only on the positive side boasted some fine horn playing (from both Principal and third players). No surprise then that the finale lost some of its dance-like quality (the orchestra was more celebrational, although ensemble was not 100% tight always). Like this, the finale seemed to last a very long time.

At last the LSO seemed galvanized for the Miraculous Mandarin Suite. The ballet score has long been associated with Pierre Boulez (AR was astounded by a performance in 2002 with this orchestra in this venue). I, too, have heard Boulez on several occasions make the single most convincing case for Bartók's music. In comparison with this modern master, Boreyko was a notch or two lower, but there was real rawness of emotion here. The bite of the opening second violins, the aggressive, pounding rhythms and the almost frightening tuttis led to a vivid experience – to make a visual analogy, it was as if the rest of the programme had been in black-and-white and suddenly we were in colour. Excellent clarinet cadenzas, a brass section clearly having a ball and a real sense of theatre (one could hear the girl's mounting desperation and fear at various points) all left a strong impression, if not strong enough to erase the feelings of disappointment encountered earlier in the evening.



Colin Clarke

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