Kavakos/LSO/Bychkov - Berg and Mahler, 25 November 2012
Berg – Violin Concerto
Mahler – Symphony no.1 in D
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.