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.