You could hardly wish for more desirable programming or soloists than we had here – sold out, of course, and culminating in a raucous standing ovation, this concert heralded a year-long survey of 20th century music, ‘inspired by’ a book called ‘The Rest is Noise.’ When it comes to music written after 1895, some might prefer ‘The rest is silence’ in Hamlet’s phrase, but there’s no denying that both programme and performance set standards which it will be fascinating to watch being equalled, never mind exceeded.
The LPO and Vladimir Jurowski were on fantastic form, blazing through Also Sprach Zarathustra as though their lives depended upon it, and giving positively cosseting support to both soloists. The infrequently heard Four Early Songs provided a rare chance to hear these Wagner – influenced works, sung with absolute commitment by Karita Mattila and Thomas Hampson, the former not absolutely steady in tone throughout yet still demonstrating why she is one of the great Strauss sopranos, fervently closing phrases like ‘Wir bringen sie in einer Silberschale.’ Hampson sang the wonderful ‘Hymnus’ with his customary elegance, and the visionary Notturno as if it had been written for him – he and Jurowski pointed out, in a very apt introduction, that Strauss set more contemporary poets than any other composer of his time.
The evening’s major work was the closing scene from Salome which found the orchestra and soloist in superlative form. Mattila, despite the truly frightful lighting which made her look like one of those illuminated statues you see around religious sites – maybe that was the idea? – gave a stunning performance, with the character’s depravity, essential naiveté and misguided passion all on show, the more lyrical phrases such as ‘geheimnisvolle Musik’ mesmerizingly shaped and the ecstasy of the closing page as engrossing as though we were seeing and hearing it on the operatic stage. A great start to what promises to be an enlightening season.
Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk.