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Ionarts-at-Large: London - Colin Davis & Znaider in Sibelius

Our thanks again to guest critic Robert R. Reilly for contributing this review from London. You can read his latest column on Classical Music at CRISIS / Inside

Has Colin Davis ever given a less than good performance of Sibelius? In fact, his recorded legacy has amply proven that he is a great Sibelian -- going back to his first and perhaps still best traversal of the 7 symphonies with Boston Symphony Orchestra on Philips.

Davis is every bit as good with his home-town London Symphony Orchestra – as was demonstrated the evening of Sunday, June 29th at the Barbican (where the cement underground parking lot ambiance of the lobby was relieved by the warmer wood-paneled interior of the concert hall) in an all-Sibelius program.

The LSO began with a crystalline if somewhat cool Oceanides that might have benefited from a greater sense of mystery. However, every strand of this impressionistic music stood out clearly in the bright acoustic of the hall.

The sensation of the evening was the Violin Concerto, played by Nikolaj Znaider, who opened with great delicacy and refinement. It was the red breast pocket handkerchief which signaled his passionate approach to the work. He showed himself flexible within the phrase, occasionally bordering on lingering, but never breaking the line. Znaider was fully in command without a single tentative moment.

He is a very expressive player -- perhaps too expressive, depending on one's interpretive take on this concerto. Znaider played it in the tradition of the great Romantic violin concertos, and the overall impression was of Italian fire on Nordic ice. Regardless, his interpretation was consistent and his bravura playing was gorgeous, with a breathtakingly delicate diminuendo at the close. Davis and the LSO gave stirring support.

The anti-Romantic antidote was administered in the second half of the program with the 4th Symphony, a deeply ruminative, mysterious lament. With superb string playing (and an excellent first-chair cellist), Davis and the LSO caught the melancholic heart of this brooding work. Each of the four movements -- even the at times rousing Finale;allegro -- ends enigmatically, softly -- indecision hanging in the air.

It was a magnificent Sibelian evening, encompassing the great composer's range from the climatic to the anti-climactic.

available at AmazonSibelius, Symphonies 3 & 7, LSO / Colin Davisavailable at AmazonSibelius, Symphonies 5 & 6, LSO / Colin Davisavailable at AmazonSibelius, Symphony 2 & Pohjola's Daughter, LSO / Colin Davis

available at AmazonSibelius, Violin Concerto, Haendel / Bournemouth S. / Berglundavailable at AmazonSibelius, Symphonies v.1, BSO / Colin Davisavailable at AmazonSibelius, Symphonies v.2, BSO / Colin Davis

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