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 Mozart, Nielsen (Second Opinion) : Radu Lupu (piano) London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis. Barbican Hall, 4.10.2009 (CC)

This was the second outing of this programme in three days and it was interesting to hear Mozart’s Symphony No. 34 in C, K338. Not one that is heard enough, this one. The last time I personally heard it live was back in the late 1980’s, with the ECO conducted by Maurizio Pollini (he bookended it with two Mozart Concertos directed from the keyboard, Nos.14 and 17). Pollini inserted a Menuet and Trio movement, something Davis decided against, leaving us with a symphony acting as extended overture. Davis’ reading was a little low in energy at times, a distinct disadvantage in a symphony that celebrates C major in the first movement in unequivocal terms. Hard-sticked timpani, in the first movement at least, felt more like a gesture towards authenticity than an integrated force. Far better was the gentle counterpoint of the Andante di molto più tosto allegretto and the fast, opera buffa finale.

Many people, I am sure, came to see and hear Radu Lupu. The man is an enigma, from his eschewing of the traditional piano stool to the way he regularly confounds expectation. At times, he was a second conductor. The D minor Concerto, K 466 is one of Mozart’s most dramatic, and yet Lupu played as if he wanted to bring the entire audience into his own world, a world of whisperings. His piano tone was very warm. The affect of dissonances was notched down. There was some drama to the Romance – double drama, in fact, on the one hand from the middle section (which was excellent) but also from a momentary lapse between piano and orchestra as the result of a piano note that refused to speak and the ensuing confusion. The finale included a sense of play and even threatened to open out a little. The cadenza here remains unidentified.

The highlight of the concert by far, though, was the account of Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 50/FS 97. Colin Davis is renowned for his Sibelius, and it appears his Nielsen is just as fine. This was the first in a series of concerts that will present all of Nielsen’s symphonies over the course of the next two years. There was beauty in the opening bassoon gestures; but as the performance progressed, it became clear that his performance was about larger level matters. The sense of ebb and flow was beyond criticism. Long lines were powerfully etched. The entire performance exuded dark grandeur of the most disquieting kind, an impression underlined by the manic side-drum part (played by Neil Percy). Dissonances reached their rawest in the second (and final) movement, a movement in which Davis’ long-range strategy was once more in evidence. The LSO was on absolutely top form (the string articulation was a joy to experience). The final pages blazed. This felt, in the hall, like the performance of a lifetime. I believe these Nielsen performances will be issued on the LSO Live label. On present evidence, they will be essential purchases.

Colin Clarke

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