Monday 25 January 2010

Tippett, Shostakovich and Schumann from Lill, Davis and the RSNO

Friday night's Royal Scottish National Orchestra programme is in some ways a tough one to review because I don't really know two of the three works. But I'm not about to let that stop me.

My last significant encounter with Andrew Davis was a set of Dvorak symphonies on RCA with the Philharmonia which I found dull beyond measure and where it felt like the orchestra were asleep, if occasionally waking up in the finales. Fortunately no Dvorak was on the programme and everyone seemed wide awake.

I'm not a hundred percent certain, but it's possible I haven't heard any Tippett in the concert hall since I first encountered the peerless concerto for double string orchestra about five years ago. That made the appearance of the Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage all the sweeter. It often seemed to call to mind features I love in the double concerto and the RSNO seemed on fine form for Davis. Hopefully it won't be so long until I next encounter some Tippett live. Sadly, even this was enough to raise the hackles of a small minority amongst Edinburgh's generally conservative audience for whom even this was too modern and who sat stoically refusing to applaud. Fortunately they were significantly in the minority.

Tippett was followed by Shostakovich's second piano concerto with John Lill. He gave a clear and lucid reading, and, impressively for such a large work, didn't feel the need to resort to thumping the keyboard. He, Lill and the RSNO gave us plenty of fireworks in the outer movements while providing a sublime reading of the adagio. Not, perhaps, Shostakovich's most profound work, but a pleasure to hear. (Note, I don't know the work well enough to comment, but I'm reliably informed that Lill got lost and was improvising for twenty or thirty bars in the finale.)

After the interval we were treated to Schumann's third symphony, the Rhenish. It's a nicely jolly work and they had plenty of fun with it. I always feel Schumann works best when played with plenty of drive and romanticism and my favourite recordings are those in the Bernstein mould, not least the man himself. Davis didn't go down that route, and yet for the most part it was success, if the first movement didn't quite have the lit and flow I'd like. True, the second movement really feel nearly a very moderate as marked, but in general it was an enjoyable reading and such minor quibbles didn't really get in the way.

Throughout, Davis seemed to be having a great deal of fun, with a huge grin spread across his face every time he turned to face the audience. It was a perfectly decent evening in the concert hall then, though as quality of this review (not one of my best) indicates, I think part of my mind and heart were still with the previous night's Bruckner which was still ringing in my ears twenty-four hours later.

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