Mitsuko Uchida's dress presented a challenge for the colour-blind eye, but she left no unanswered chromatic questions for the ear. From a dramatically exposed initial entry, through the poignant lyricism of the second movement, to the brilliance of the finale, Uchida's playing was marked by an intensity of thought, mastery of colour, and musical commitment. It is, in particular, her quiet playing that enraptures, daring the listener ever closer, as she edges nearer to silence. And whilst there were moments where the sound was a little brutal, it was at the high price of miraculously clear playing, achieved through sparing use of pedal. The evening didn't start with such imagination, however.
Private jokes can be awkward at the best of times, and unfortunately the one between Sir Colin Davis and the lower strings in the finale of Haydn's 'Oxford' symphony didn't communicate the wit that was intended. There were moments of more characterful and inventive playing – oboist Nora Cismondi's poised and refined oboe sound floated over the orchestra, whilst Adam Walker's flute playing stole our hearts – but a lot felt predictable and tired: the lines were uniformly too long and lacked a necessary deftness, in turn making the music too wide, and missing the vertical magic of Haydn's harmonic shifts; the strings often got the upper hand in balance during contrapuntal passages, obfuscating the humour of Haydn's cheeky 'academic' gesture. Indeed, with the playing that was to come, this was a weak link, and its exclusion would have focused the programme and heightened its musical impact.
If the performers' energies were conserved in Haydn's ninety-fourth symphony though, the deficit was clearly invested in Nielsen's first. Written in his mid-twenties, and premièred with the composer playing second violin in the orchestra, the G minor symphony reveals many of the traits of Nielsen's idiomatic voice. And the problem of overly-weighty lines translated as a success this time round, for Nielsen's score is, unsurprisingly, bigger-boned, expansive in its language and aspect. The balance between the 'blunted' melodies and the strident, surging forces was compellingly handled, charged by electrifying energy. Indeed, it was Colin Davis' enthusiasm and charisma that projected through the work, orchestra, and audience, selling it apparently effortlessly.