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Copland, Barber and Dvořák

Copland: Suite: Appalachian Spring (1943/1944 orch 1945)

Barber: Knoxville, Summer of 1915, op.24 (1947)

Dvořák:  Symphony No.9 in E minor, From the New World, op.95 (1893)


Barbara Bonney – soprano, London Symphony Orchestra, François-Xavier Roth


Barbican Hall, London – 25 April 2010


André Previn was to have conducted tonight, but due to temporary health problems he was advised not to travel. François-Xavier Roth proved to be an ideal replacement and this was a concert of great music making.


Copland’s Appalachian Spring was a concert performance -  with some of Roth’s tempi it would have been difficult to dance to -  but such was his interpretation that he made his choice of tempi work. Although slightly faster than we might normally have heard, even in the solo dance for the Bride, which was brilliantly alert and alive, but at such a speed that the poor woman would have been left gasping for breath. The final prayer glowed in its quietude. Barber’s extended scena was given a performance of radiant beauty by Barbara Bonney, with Roth and the orchestra giving a subtle and generally restrained accompaniment. Conductor and soloist worked well together to achieve a real sense of childlike awe as we were treated to the various scenes taking place outside the narrator’s home on a warm evening in the south. James Agee’s text might not seem to lend itself to music, but Barber achieves the miraculous in a setting which highlights the numerous events, and he creates such tenderness and warmth when the singer describes the love of her parents.


The New World Symphony received a brilliantly vital performance; Roth is not a conductor who believes in sentimentality so we were treated to a no nonsense performance where everything was laid bare before us, in the clearest, unfussy, way. A beautiful cor anglais solo in the slow movement and vivid dancing rhythms in the scherzo balanced the outer movement’s fire and power. Perhaps the opening allegro was slightly on the brisk side but within Roth’s concept of the piece it worked. The ending was devastating in its baldness, all passions spent. With the LSO on top form, this was a splendid evening in the concert hall.


David Bird