LSO/Davis - Barbican - 18 December 2007
Is the LSO ashamed of new music? Tonight's concert started with a short new commission by Martin Suckling, one of an occasional series. As with previous commissions in the series, no mention of it on the Barbican website or in the programme. Perhaps they think some of the audience would be put off -- and perhaps they would, but isn't that a decision the audience should be allowed to make for themselves? No need to sneak it in like cabbage under the mashed potatoes on a toddler's dinner plate. And budding composers need all the publicity they can get. At the very least, the audience need to have a rough idea of a concert's end-time so that they can arrange to get home. There were mutterings on the way out about being released at nearly 10 after the programme indicated a 9.30 finish - is that really what the LSO want people's final impression of their concerts to be?
Anyway, the piece itself was appealing and unscary, if rather unfinished-sounding. The most interesting part was a central section where mating oboes sighed over a rumbling bass. An individual touch was not so clearly established in the choppy string opening or the expansive songlike ending.
The follow up was on safe ground -- Elgar's Enigma Variations, an LSO mainstay, last programmed I think only a few months ago. Sir Colin gave a characteristically lucid and intense reading, and there was some fine work especially from the brass section.
The second half of the evening was occupied by Tippett's A Child of Our Time, recorded for future CD release. This piece needs bags of emotional commitment to work, and it got plenty from the soprano soloist Indra Thomas, rather bare on her top notes but florid and affecting otherwise. Mezzo Mihoko Fujimura brought a more intellectual brand of intensity - singing beautifully, but, buried in her score all evening, barely communicating. Tenor Steve Davislim had the right light and pleasant voice, though he sometimes failed to carry over the orchestra. Bass Matthew Rose was technically fine, and very clear, but didn't sound particularly interested in what he was singing.
The London Symphony Choir sounded as if they'd been at the mulled wine and mince pies, a bit ragged round the edges. It was left to the LSO to pick up the baton - quite literally at one point as Sir Colin lost his grip, and leader Gordan Nikolitch had to scoop it up from the floor. Perhaps indicative of an evening that went nearly right.