In this typically inventive programme from conductor Vladimir Jurowski, an infrequently played Bruckner symphony was coupled with Beethovens best known piano concerto, with a vibrant 21st century orchestral piece as a curtain raiser.
Matthias Pintschers towards Osiris was one of a number of short orchestral works commissioned by the Berliner Philharmoniker as asteroids to accompany Holsts The Planets. Composed in 2005, towards Osiris makes use of a large orchestra and a variety of exotic percussion instruments, including Thai gongs, Chinese temple blocks, guiros, claves, a marimbaphone and a flexatone. Its seven minute span contains a wealth of ideas, including a passage for solo trumpet, and culminates in a climax of frenetic activity, all of which was presented with virtuosic immediacy by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Dating from almost 200 years earlier, the grandeur of Beethovens Piano Concerto No 5 in E provided a major contrast with the opening piece. The German pianist Lars Vogt delivered a lucid and straightforward account of the score, communicating both the heroic and lyrical aspects of the first movement and avoiding sentimentality with a relatively swift tempo for the Adagio. Jurowskis accompaniment, with violins placed antiphonally, was notable for its clarity and incisiveness.
As with the symphonies of Dvork and Tchaikovsky, Bruckners earliest works in the genre are eclipsed by his later masterpieces. Nevertheless, Bruckners Symphony No 1 in C Minor represents the work of a composer in his early forties, a long apprenticeship finally over, poised to embark on one of the greatest symphonic journeys in all music. Although there are passages that are unconvincing, the traits which make the later symphonies so compelling are already there, including a sense of sense of mystery, rhythmic propulsion, a meditative Adagio, and a hymnlike final apotheosis. In later life, Bruckner chose to revise the symphony, but the composers original version from 1866 was played in this concert.
As far as I can tell, this was Jurowskis first performance of a Bruckner symphony, but the results were superb. The first movement was carried forward with a strong sense of rhythm, assisted by the eight double basses lined up at the back of the orchestra, while tutti passages smouldered with power. The Adagio was especially fine, illuminated by the transparent yet ardent playing of the orchestra. Throughout the symphony, clarity of texture and sensitivity of phrasing was married a firm grasp of the symphonys architecture, even in the problematic finale. It is difficult to envisage Bruckners First Symphony ever receiving a more carefully prepared and beautifully presented interpretation than this.
Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk