Opera + Classical Music Reviews

London Philharmonic Orchestra @ Royal Festival Hall, London

2 February 2008

This concert from the London Philharmonic Orchestra opened with Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Lullaby for Hans, for String Orchestra.

The work was written to commemorate the eightieth birthday of German composer Hans Werner Henze.

It is an elusive work but not one that is aurally harsh or uninviting, the blend of legato and pizzicato, ensemble and solo, fascinating.

The orchestra here, in the work’s brief five minute running time, showed a nicely balanced timbre, the solo violin and cello lines expressively shaped and intonated, balanced on a sea of delicate ensemble murmurings, fading into the far distance. The standard of performance would continue in a work by Henze himself, the Second Sonata per Archi, in which the sound achieved a quality of weightlessness, almost disembodiment. The work does, however, feel protracted, even at only ten minutes long.

Brahms’ popular Violin Concerto was given the most memorable performance on Saturday evening, though not necessarily the finest. Soloist Christian Tetzlaff took great instrumental risks, driving and clawing at the solo lines, presenting in the opening Allegro non troppo gritty violence and high drama, the cragginess of the double stopping grandly giving way to soaring, honeyed lyricism in the violin’s upper registers.

The muscular bowing would continue into the cadenza (typically that by Joseph Joachim, a fine violinist of his time, and the first performer of this work in 1879), though the Bachian elements here were strongly conveyed. However, the driven approach taken by the soloist took its toll on the intonation, and the sound produced – volatile and tending towards seeming strained – stood at odds with Vladimir Jurowski‘s intricate orchestral reading. The violin’s rich, rippling vibrato in the Adagio worked much better.

At the opening of the finale, Allegro giocoso, Tetzlaff snapped a string, and the result was a five minute pause as the violinist rushed offstage to re-string. If anything, this incident upped the drama a notch further, and the following movement was exhilarating, if somewhat frenetic, the soloist’s nerves perhaps pushing him further than the music demands. However, this was still a memorable performance, the opening movement alone earning a rich round of applause from the audience (something that I greatly approve of incidentally: a warm, spontaneous show of appreciation seems to me far more preferable than the deadly reverential silence called for by some).

Finally, Jurowski provided a gripping interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. The instrumental detail was dangerously microscopic, and the work’s Adagio opening burned slowly, tending to lack some elemental power. However, the opening statement of the famous string melody grabbed one, its shyness moving, counterpointing the vehement grotesqueness of the movement’s central section. The Allegro con grazia truly danced, though was not without richness of timbre and sinister, portentous rumblings; the Allegro molto vivace perhaps lost a sense of accumulating frenzy, but Jurowski’s autocratic leadership drew virtuosity from every orchestral section, the drum interjections ear-shattering; the Finale followed on very quickly, its opening subsequently less shocking than it can be, but the interpretation was bleak yet texturally warm, the use of silence highly effective. This was a very moving performance, and one finally destroyed by the interpolation of a loudly and endlessly ringing phone over its final, hushed bars, a moment so vile that conductor Jurowski could only shake his head in disgust, as did I. Shameful.

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