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Elgar, Schumann, Walton:
Mitsuko Uchida (piano), LSO/Sir Colin Davis, Barbican Hall, 23 September, 2005 (CC)



And so to another season. A season which brings no Festival Hall and a Barbican still being redecorated.

The Barbican is still the LSO's home, though, and there remains often a feeling that they are home when they play here. This was clear from the Walton First, less so from the first half. Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for strings opened with a surprising lack of depth of sound. Although this fitted with LSO leader Gordan Nikolitch's rather abrasive sound, its error was in evidence through the solo viola's superb warmth. The Allegro brought a huge amount of movement from Nikolitch (he was primed for take-off on several occasions). Vigour was the order of the day here – yet the prevalent dryness was decidedly off-putting (as was the beginning-of-season scrappiness that surfaced in the fugue).

Mitsuko Uchida in Schumann's Concerto reminded us of this pianist's huge communicative persona. Assertive from the very start, her simply lovely shadings and her careful weighting of chords made for compelling listening. For the first movement, though, she was rather too dry (perhaps still acclimatizing to the acoustic). Interpretatively it worked well because it was never over-langorous (judged perfectly by both soloist and conductor). The cadenza was nicely ruminative but with a backbone of steel.

There was applause after the first movement, and the second movement showed precisely why there shouldn't have been. The audience as a collective entity lost concentration, meaning the performer/listener rapport had to be completely re-established, basically from scratch. Despite many felicities from Uchida and some laudable attention to differences in string attack from Davis, the rather nervous, ungrounded feeling still pervaded the hall at the end. It was left to the finale to address the problem, which it almost succeeded in doing (a simply superb orchestral fugato). The peak that appeared right at the close did seem to be generated from a 'play the last bit well and they'll forget the rest' mentality, and the audience, from the strength of its ovation, seemed to fall for it. Having heard what Uchida on absolutely top form is capable of this remained a somewhat flaccid occasion for this reviewer.

What a difference the second half brought. Walton's First emerged as a turbulent, seething, elemental statement that makes me ache to hear the LSO Live recording which will appear in due course. Davis seemed intent on spelling out a Sibelian connection in bringing an organic feeling of surging growth. The Scherzo was very rhythmically exact, with an anger beneath the surface that emerged regularly. Superb. The contrasting rarified atmosphere of the slow movement had a chill wind wafting through it (and how effective was the tolling of the muted trombones). The finale, with Walton regularly in Crown Imperial mode, resplendent brass and Davis' thorough knowledge of the score left quite an impression. Davis seemed keen on reminding us how great a symphony Walton's First really is. He succeeded.



Colin Clarke


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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)