|Imaginative programming has been a notable feature of Vladimir Jurowski’s “Revealing Tchaikovsky” festival at the Southbank Centre. This concert was no exception, taking the opportunity to contrast Tchaikovsky’s and Schumann’s musical depictions of Lord Byron’s Manfred.
Opening the concert, Schumann’s Manfred Overture received an excellent performance under Jurowski, the opening tense and expectant, the allegro fast and vigorous, and the playing of the London Philharmonic Orchestra distinguished by precise articulation and lucid orchestral textures. The use of antiphonal violins, as favoured by Jurowski, was also of benefit here.
Following this was Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto, composed between the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Symphonies, and premiered by Rostropovich in 1966. For a piece which is often quiet and brooding, it requires a surprisingly large orchestra, including two harps, ten double basses and a large percussion section.
Given that the concerto is so rarely heard, it was a pity that this performance was something of a disappointment. Cellist Mario Brunello performed the work from memory, but his intonation occasionally lacked accuracy, notably during the double stopping towards the end of the first movement and in the duets with woodwind in the third movement.
His performance also rarely seemed inside the music, unlike the first horn for instance, whose playing was noticeably more intense and moving. Indeed the orchestral accompaniment was often penetrating and exciting, the xylophone and woodwind characterfully pungent. Overall, however, the dark, wistful beauty of the concerto was only intermittently conveyed on this occasion.
Things were back on track with the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony, a neglected work which contains some of the composer’s most inspired music. Conducting with small, precise gestures, Jurowski lead an account of the first movement that was suffused with tension, the yearning opening leading inexorably to the titanic climaxes of the close. The exquisitely orchestrated second movement was lovingly phrased and played, while the third was suffused with pastoral tenderness and considerable passion.
Accurate and punchy percussion helped project the feverish excitement of the last movement, while the sonorous orchestra playing combined with the organ to deliver a stirring climax. It was particularly good to hear the restored Royal Festival Hall organ at last, and not an electronic substitute. All in all, this was a first class account of the Manfred Symphony.
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