Monday, 26 November 2012

Kavakos/LSO/Bychkov - Berg and Mahler, 25 November 2012

Barbican Hall

Berg – Violin Concerto
Mahler – Symphony no.1 in D major

Leonidas Kavakos (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Semyon Bychkov (conductor)

A brief report rather than a proper review here, if only because this was a concert that puzzled in that it is difficult to think of very much to say about it. It had the same programme as a concert I attended in 2008, Christoph von Dohnányi’s final concert as Principal Conductor of the Philharmonia. That seemed to attract little attention at the time, though I thought highly of it. The present concert, however, seemed strangely routine. There was little or nothing that was bad, but nor was there anything to excite.

Leonidas Kavakos played the solo part of the Berg Violin Concerto competently enough, bar a few notes early on for which intonation was a slight issue. Yet he evinced little affinity for the work, the style, let alone the idea. His performance began rather rough-hewn, disconcertingly so in the opening bars, but then settled down to nondescript. Semyon Bychkov’s reading was fine, so far as it went; there were some intriguing, almost Debussyan moments colouristically, but again it was difficult to say that either he or the LSO was on good form. Rather to my surprise, the orchestra seemed unresponsive to him; more than once I saw him signalling to sections to quieten down, to little or no avail. The most striking music came at the beginning of the second part, direction and even violence briefly to be heard, especially from the orchestra. Then the music once again subsided into pleasant rêverie. There is so much more to Berg than was heard here.

The performance of Mahler’s First Symphony proceeded for the most part smoothly enough, though there was an uncharacteristic number of slips from the LSO, especially during the first movement. It inhabited a strange no-man’s-land between ‘objectivity’ and commitment, with few of the advantages either. Bychkov’s tempi were throughout sensible; likewise balances – well, usually anyway. But rarely did the music catch fire. Amiability was the watchword of the second movement. The third movement probably came off best, Colin Paris’s double bass solo well taken and the Klezmer(-ish) music performed with generous swing. Surprisingly for someone with so keen a sense of musical form, Bychkov was unsuccessful in papering over the formal cracks in the finale, which sounded unfortunately extended. Yes, there is repetition here that looks questionable on paper, but a great performance will sweep all before it. Sadly it was not to be on this occasion. Altogether a rather puzzling evening: maybe the LSO and Bychkov are just not the partnership for which one might have hoped.


pete said...

It was a great and revelatory Mahler 1. The rough edges and rude exposed woodwind were part of its wide ranging appeal. If you do not compare anything you hear with what you believe you already know beforehand, then you are ready to listen to an orchestra conducted by Semyon Bychkov. Sensible tempi? please explain. It is simply not necessary to prove ones sentience when writing about music.

pete said...

Kimon Daltas at the Arts Desk was at the same gig that most of us were.
Please feel your way or do not write. It's disrespectful to flaunt your inability to enter the music and the moment as if that were more important than the immense fecundity we were all entranced by. If Mahler himself had heard that performance he may have handed his baton to SB permanently. This was real youthful Mahler, it possessed staggering natural force and humanity for all of us who were truly present.

Andrew Morris said...

Pete, it sounds as though you disagree with Mark, which is fair enough, but it would be much more interesting to hear why you thought it was an interesting performance than for you to suppose that Mahler would have approved or that you somehow know how everyone else in the audience felt about it. Is a critic's job only to take a measurement of the ensuing applause and write a corresponding review? I really hope not.

pete said...

It was as if the music was being played for the first time. I've listened to this symphony for 25 years but I'm not a critic myself. You had to be there. Bychkov himself could not have planned every nuance, rather he lived through each successive moment and acted accordingly. I'm simply offended by the arrogance of the puzzled reviewer, evident in every sentence. Also I find it distasteful to read vain attempts to establish a higher authority. For myself, I don't relate ANY musical experience to a set of pre-conceived notions from theory, recordings or critical convention. I have absolutely no interest in the reaction of other audience members. I am a human being and I optimistically assume the presence of similar humanity in the majority. Sorry I can't be of any further assistance but there are plenty of accurate reviews available on the internet if you require specifics.

Mark Berry said...

'I'm simply offended by the arrogance of the puzzled reviewer.' Whilst I regret that you are offended, I simply don't understand how puzzlement can in any sense denote arrogance. By its very nature puzzlement would suggest, I should have thought, a point of view or a judgement that was less than fixed. To say, 'I have absolutely no interest in the reaction of other audience members' would doubtless have been plausible in your case had you not first referred to 'all of us who were truly present', which implies that there was at least one other audience member - the Almighty perhaps, given the strange reference to transubstantiation: 'truly present'? - in whose reaction you were interested, and the fact that you have taken the trouble to post three times here. From that fact alone, I can only surmise that, for whatever reason, my reaction sparked some interest on your part. Some might feel the alleged 'arrogance' fell more on your side than mine; I couldn't possibly comment.

For what it is worth, I drew attention to this being a brief report rather than a review. I should normally go into greater detail concerning the performance, but partly for reasons of time did not do so on this occasion, simply offering some brief remarks as a diary item. But given that you have 'no interest' in the reaction of others, however grounded, I cannot imagine how a fuller review might have helped, nor indeed why any review at all would be of interest to you. As for your misunderstanding of 'sensible' - sometimes words in the English language have more than a single meaning - perhaps you should consult a dictionary.