This was the final concert in the LPOs 2010/11 season, and a pretty memorable one its been. Already ensconced at Glyndebourne and winning superlative notices for their contribution to the festivals first-ever staging of Meistersinger the orchestra and its principal conductor Vladimir Jurowski presented a theatrically charged end-of-term concert that concluded with a particularly edifying performance of Brahms Symphony no. 4 in E minor.
I must confess that the main draw of the evening had been the prospect of the superb German baritone Christian Gerhaher performing songs by Brahms and Mahler. Unfortunately he was ill and was replaced by Hanno Mller-Brachmann, and the programme was changed to a selection from Mahlers Des Knaben Wunderhorn. I had been unimpressed with Mller-Brachmanns Wigmore Hall debut a few years ago. Despite his impressive CV I had found him dry of tone and lacking in vocal colour, so it came as something of a pleasant surprise to discover that his voice has matured over the intervening years, and whilst one missed the way Gerhaher points words and colours the voice, Mller-Brachmann brought great dramatic insight to the seven songs which were taken from the set of twelve that Mahler composed around 1900.
From the satirical opening song Das Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt (St Anthony of Padua preaches to the Fishes) to the closing Revelge (Reveille) with its ghostly army and tortured tale of military life, Mller-Brachmann embodied each character perfectly and produced some thrilling singing, at turns introspective and full-blooded. Jurowski was a sensitive accompanist throughout and the orchestra responded with plenty of thrilling playing.
For Brahms 4th Symphony Jurowski pulled out all the stops and gave this seminal work one of the cornerstones not only of Romantic classical music but of the symphonic repertoire a reading that may not have thrown any new light on the piece but was grounded in tradition, full-bodied and outstandingly well played. He lent a heightened sense of tension to the sighing, yearning motifs for the strings which open the first movement, the climaxes grew organically from the depths of the orchestra and never felt manufactured, and while other conductors often feel the need to stamp their mark on a work by unnecessarily tampering with its architecture, Jurowski let the music speak for itself and allowed it to unfurl at its natural pace. The third movement Allegro giocoso had terrific guts and drive and the finales bleak conclusion had a shattering sense of resignation to it. All sections of the LPO acquitted themselves admirably. All in all this was as good a season-closer as you could have hoped for.
Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk