London Symphony Orchestra / Colin Davis / Radu Lupu - Barbican, 1 October 2009
Radu Lupu is one of those rare pianists who can be identified from a mere handful of notes. His distinctive soft-edged sound is like a cat padding across velvet. Even the Barbican's big brash Steinway succumbed to his caressing touch. Leaning back on his sawn-off typing chair, he paws the keyboard from arm's length, as if the exquisite pain of proximity would be just too much to bear. His serene and introspective reading of Mozart's Piano Concerto No 20 was barely grazed by a few uncharacteristic fluffs in the second movement. Even the brilliant cadenzas gave no hint of testing his limits - every note remained considered and duly weighted. Sir Colin Davis proved an empathetic collaborator. Glances and gestures were frequently exchanged, the LSO playing with a rare delicacy.
There was more Mozart to begin the evening, a splendidly full-bodied Symphony No 34. Sir Colin has no truck with period practice or chocolate-box prettiness - this was meat-and-potatoes Mozart, open-hearted and muscular in execution. How different from the anaemic perfection of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and their Jupiter Symphony last week.
I hadn't quite appreciated the logic of the programming before the concert, but the martial flair of the Mozart complemented the evening's big symphony, Nielsen's brooding, battling Fifth. The LSO played brilliantly all round, relishing in the extremes of mood and dynamics, and Sir Colin sculpted its peculiar episodic structure into compelling narrative.
Amazingly, this was the first time Sir Colin had conducted it - evidence of just how far Nielsen's star is rising right now. It might be going a bit far to proclaim him the next Mahler, as some have, but there has to be more space on the schedules for music with this kind of immediacy and broad appeal. The LSO clearly think so - Sir Colin will be tackling all six symphonies this year, all to be recorded for future release.