Opera + Classical Music Reviews

London Symphony Orchestra @ Barbican Hall, London

10 February 2008

This programme from the London Symphony Orchestra coupled two difficult but potentially rewarding works.

In the first half stood Dvork’s Eighth Symphony, a jubilant piece that can seem confusingly constructed and overtly tuneful in the wrong hands.

Here, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas provided an interpretation of delirious joy and powerful majesty.

The hurried opening flute (bird) calls boded badly, as did some scrappy ensemble intonation in the Allegro con brio‘s brisker passages. However, Tilson Thomas conducted with an eye for detail, drawing from the score many treasures: a delicate drum moan here, a distant trumpet cry there. In the Adagio, the secure violin tone and airy woodwind solos entwined gracefully, the dance episodes fragrant and delicately shaded, the tempi admirably judged as part of a breathing whole.

Perhaps the orchestral texture was slightly too rich for the Allegretto grazioso to spring from the platform, but the final Allegretto ma non troppo thrilled, the trumpet fanfares paeans of exultation, Dvork’s intimate passages later lovingly enveloping the performance like the folds of a warm blanket, the movement’s brisker sections powerfully fast and excellently characterful. Tilson Thomas held the audience enraptured throughout the performance, speeding past movement breaks, shaping the symphony into a coherent musical and dramatic whole.

Jancek’s Glagolitic Mass, coming in the concert’s second half, was less successful. The work must be partly to blame, mainly because the vocal solo lines are so fragmentary and cruelly arduous that their delivery seems destined to be unattractive and damaging to the performance’s cumulative effect. However, Jancek’s composition is also a masterpiece of orchestral and choral writing, the scope of the composer’s vision extraordinary, the instrumental scoring raw and vibrant (there’s even an organ solo) and the choral writing electrifying. The London Symphony Chorus were on top form here, not brushing over the incongruities of their vocal lines, but indeed relishing them. Tilson Thomas conducted effortfully at first, puffing and contorting in response to the music, and though it all stayed together admirably, there was a definite sense of unwarranted tension about the interpretation’s opening fifteen minutes.

Best of the soloists was soprano Measha Brueggergosman, here making her debut with this orchestra. It is wonderful to find an artist who so completely inhabits the platform and is unafraid to beam a radiant smile into the audience. The singer’s voice tended in this work to boast a harsh quality up above, and many words were delivered awkwardly: it was Brueggergosman’s vivacious personality that captivated me. Stuart Skelton almost made the tenor lines look easy, but his delivery was perhaps too biting, lacking a glorious lyrical line to complement the transcendental text. Matthew Rose and Karen Cargill made much impression with their underwritten parts.

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