The draw of hearing renowned cellist Alban Gerhardt play one of the cornerstones of the repertoire, Dvoraks Cello Concerto in B Minor was the main reason for attending this Saturday night concert with the LPO under their Principal Conductor Vladimir Jurowski. The hall was packed and for once attentive throughout, which is probably no surprise given the calibre of the performance. Jurowski led one of the swiftest interpretations of this work that Ive heard, yet his judiciously chosen tempi seemed spot on.
The first movement, marked Allegro, can often drag, but not here indeed the briskness of the opening theme caught me by surprise, yet in the context of the overall interpretation seemed perfectly judged. Gerhardt was technically faultless throughout, finding plenty of weight and resonance in the middle movement and dazzling us with his virtuosity in the third, and although he may not produce the sweetest of sounds, this lack of tonal beauty was more than compensated for by his innate musicianship and total empathy with Dvoraks idiom. Jurowski and the orchestra were the perfect accompanists and balance never faltered for a moment: no mean feat given the density of the orchestration. With Gerhardt playing at the top of his game and Jurowski providing exemplary support this performance was a revelation.
The evening began with Liszts Nocturnal Procession and Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (Two Episodes from Lenaus Faust) and here Jurowski and his players revelled in both the technical difficulties and the macabre orchestrations, and it was interesting to hear the Mephisto Waltz for full orchestra rather than its usual piano version. The off-stage effects (bells and cor anglais) added to the sense of theatre which Jurowski brought to both these works.
This particularly well-thought out concert ended with a rip-roaring performance of Tchaikovskys Symphony No. 2 in C minor (Little Russian), and although the material might be considered slight compared to the Russian composers other symphonies, Jurowski conducted a persuasive account of the score and was rewarded with razor- sharp playing from all sections of the orchestra. All in all this was a memorable and rewarding evening and confirmed how solid the partnership between Jurowski and the LPO is.
Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk