Sunday, 10 October 2010

Mutter/LSO/Davis - Dvořák and Janáček, 10 October 2010

Barbican Hall

Dvořák – Violin Concerto in A minor, op.53
Janáček – Glagolitic Mass

Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano)
Anna Stephany (mezzo-soprano)
Simon O’Neill (tenor)
Martin Snell (bass)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra (chorus master: Joseph Cullen)
Sir Colin Davis (conductor)

First things first: not even a performance of this distinction could salvage Dvořák’s Violin Concerto. I suppose it is worth hearing occasionally, perhaps as part of a large scale Dvořák retrospective, but even the combined forces of Anne-Sophie Mutter, the LSO, and Sir Colin Davis could not conceal its ramshackle structure, or lack of it. ‘Rhapsodic’ might be a polite way of describing the work, but it would barely do such aimlessness justice. There are small sections that are relatively attractive in themselves, though it is difficult to discern the melodic or other attractions of the composer’s better works. But where do they come from and where do they go? Davis and Mutter launched the first movement in grandly symphonic, Brahmsian style. Unfortunately, this valiant attempt to shoehorn the composer’s meanderings into an intelligible structure was doomed to failure. Everything one could have wished for was there in performance terms. The LSO’s woodwind contributed delectable solo work. Mutter’s tone was simply ravishing, generous vibrato and precise intonation– none of the pain inflicted a week ago by Viktoria Mullova – happy bedfellows. As ever, her commitment seemed complete. Leaving aside a couple of ever so slight disjunctures between soloist and orchestra during the finale, I cannot imagine the concerto being better performed, but it still could not come off. No wonder Joachim rejected it. If only these musicians had been playing Brahms, Beethoven, or Berg.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass was another matter entirely. The performance matched at the very least that preceding the interval, but here we are concerned with a masterpiece of staggering originality. Sir Colin is not a conductor I especially associate with Janáček; I do not know whether he has conducted any of the operas, but on the basis of this performance, I hope that he might yet be persuaded. This was not a reading that went out of its way to stress the work’s Moravian roots, but it is arguably high time that Janáček was freed from nationalist constraints. There were elements of Romanticism, not least in the gorgeous cello lines of the Introduction, but the work was never unduly romanticised; it stood stark, craggy, and wondrous. Indeed, there was a stentorian quality to the structural whole: not unlike an imaginary Klemperer Glagolitic Mass. Above all, Davis and his forces imparted the requisite awe and joy. Just as Janáček, especially later Janáček, should not be reduced to regional status, his affirmation cannot be restricted to any creed, whether Christian or pantheist. That was what we heard here.

The LSO was on simply outstanding form, the only fault I can recall a very minor brass slip in the concluding Intrada. Unanimity of attack, orchestral weight and colouring, and burning commitment to the score: the orchestra’s players had it all. Catherine Edwards’s rendition of the extraordinary organ solo was similarly distinguished, despite the feeble Barbican electronic instrument: a pity. Nevertheless, I was left wishing that the composer had written a mature solo work or two for the King of Instruments. Following that postlude, I found myself wondering briefly whether the orchestra's tuning was quite that of the organ's, but my ears soon adjusted and it may have been my imagination. Davis also seemed to drive the opening of the Intrada a little hard, though there was no denying the grandeur of its conclusion.

The performance from the London Symphony Chorus was outstanding too. I do not think I have ever heard a bad performance from this chorus; that state of affairs was not about to change here. Shouts of exultation are mightily impressive, and they were on this occasion, but equally so was the singers’ way with the language and its connection to the notes. The vocal soloists impressed too. Krassimira Stoyanova and Simon O’Neill had most to do, all of which they did very well indeed, complementing and extending the orchestral and choral rapture. The sensuous quality of Stoyanova’s delivery drew one in, seduced one even, whilst O’Neill’s Heldentenor portrayed and commanded awestruck respect. Anna Stephany had little to do, though the tone quality of her mezzo-soprano pleased briefly; Martin Snell’s bass was warm and rounded, yet nevertheless precise.

Microphones were present, so I assume the performance was being recorded for LSO Live. The programme will be repeated, prefaced by Sasha Siem’s Trickster, on 12 October.