If there was a theme linking the four composers heard in this London Philharmonic Orchestra concert, the programme note provided no explanation. Nevertheless, the works presented were sufficiently unusual and appealing that the Royal Festival Hall was full to capacity, no doubt helped by the appearance of Joshua Bell.
The concert opened with Mozart’s attractively concise Symphony No 32 in G major, which comprises three brief movements played without a break. Jurowski led a spirited account of the score that benefited from a scaled down orchestra (just 34 strings), antiphonal violins and natural trumpets.
Bell’s interpretation of Brahms’ Violin Concerto was both impressive as a technical achievement and a pleasure to listen to, his playing distinguished by warm, silvery tone and modest use of vibrato. With sensitive accompaniment from Jurowski, there were many illuminating moments along the way, including the first movement cadenza written by Bell himself. However, the performance suffered from a lack of sweep and energy, not helped by a slow pulse for the opening movement and a swift one for the Adagio, the gorgeous oboe melody at the start of the movement not given enough room to breathe. The finale was certainly virtuosic, but the performance as whole left the emotions unstirred.
The second half of the concert brought works from two 20th century composers whom Jurowski has been championing in recent years. The first of these was Zemlinsky’s melodic, passionate and occasionally sugary setting of Psalm 23 (‘The Lord is my shepherd’) from 1910, which was beautifully played and sung by the combined forces of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir.
The second was Szymanowski’s opulent Third Symphony (‘The Song of the Night’), composed between 1914 and 1916 and based on the poetry of the 13th century Persian mystic Jalal’ad-Din Rumi. Scored for tenor solo, choir, orchestra and organ, Szymanowski’s music inhabits an extraordinary world of sensuousness, yearning and ecstasy. Jurowski delivered a performance full of colour and ardour, with carefully balanced textures and riveting climaxes. There were notable contributions from tenor Jeremy Ovenden and orchestra leader Pieter Schoeman as well as first horn and first trumpet. It provided a tremendous finish to the concert.
Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk