Opera + Classical Music Reviews

London Philharmonic Orchestra @ Royal Festival Hall, London

30 January 2008

Consisting of a stirring Russian symphony, a sparkling piano concerto and an accessible contemporary work, tonight’s line up seemed designed to appeal to a wide audience.

Southbank Centre

Royal Festival Hall (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

Indeed, the London Philharmonic Orchestra will be using the programme to showcase their partnership in Vienna and Hong Kong in March.

It was therefore puzzling that the Royal Festival Hall was only half full for tonight’s concert.

Mark-Anthony Turnage is currently Composer in Residence with both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The concert opened with his Evening Songs, an orchestral work of three movements composed in the late 1990s.

Lasting around 18 minutes, the piece is attractively scored for a large orchestra including saxophone, keyboard, harp, tuned gongs and handbells. In all three movements, threads of melody emerge from, and fade into, a shifting web of sound. It is a piece which has interesting ideas and is easy to listen to, although one which perhaps needs something extra to make it stand out from the many contemporary works which inhabit a similar sound world.

Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G was played by Italian pianist Benedetto Lupo, who brought dexterity and poetic sensibility to the first movement and vitality to the finale. However, Lupo’s playing seemed less certain in the Adagio assai, not helped by the unattractive tone of the cor anglais, and the gentle wistfulness of Ravel’s music was missing from the movement.

In Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, Vladimir Jurowski secured magnificent playing from the orchestra. Textures were ideally balanced throughout the symphony and there were numerous instances of felicitous playing. The volume and heft behind the climaxes in the first and third movements was extremely impressive. Yet somehow I was unmoved by the performance. The first movement seemed tentative, the scherzo lacked lan, and the adagio failed to communicate a sense of impending tragedy. Even the finale was wanting in exuberance. Everything was in place for a memorable performance of the symphony, but the emotion behind the music did not communicate itself on this occasion.

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