Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LPO/Jurowski @ Royal Festival Hall, London

26 February 2014

Southbank Centre

Southbank Centre (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

Two giants of the 19th century music scene in Vienna were the focus of this concert by Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The first of the two composers, Brahms, was represented by his Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, also known as the Double Concerto. This was given an admirable performance by violinist Julia Fischer and cellist Daniel Müller-Schott.

The two soloists are frequent musical collaborators (indeed they recorded the concerto together in 2006) and their rapport was readily apparent in the unanimity, poise and naturalness of their playing. This was not a high octane rendition but rather one that highlighted the more intimate side of the dialogue between the two instruments, an approach especially moving in the Andante. Excellent support was provided by Jurowski and the orchestra, featuring both characterful instrumental solos as well energetic and incisive playing in tutti passages.

The LPO has arguably the most developed Bruckner tradition of any orchestra in the UK, previous principal conductors such as Haitink, Welser-Möst and Masur all having being enthusiastic proponents of the composer’s music. Even so, it’s unlikely that many of the players would have previously performed the main work of the second half, Bruckner’s Second Symphony, so rarely is it played.

As with many neglected works, it’s a much finer piece than its absence from concert schedules might suggest. One issue that does arise, however, is deciding which version to perform given the number of changes Bruckner made to the work after its initial completion. For this performance, Jurowski opted for the very first version, dating from 1872. One of the main advantages of the first version is a magical solo for horn at the close of the slow movement. Due to the difficulty of performing the part when the symphony was composed, Bruckner subsequently changed the scoring from horn to clarinet, a safer but less effective option.

Jurowski’s conducting of the symphony was swift paced, with transparent textures and good attention to detail. As with the Brahms performance, first and second violins were placed antiphonally and double basses were lined up at the back of the orchestra. Overall, this was a carefully thought out and expressed account of the score. That said, there were also a number of issues with Jurowski’s interpretation. Transitions were sometimes unsubtle (noticeably in the Scherzo), climaxes occasionally sounded rather harsh, and the solo horn at the end of the Adagio could have been softer.

Moreover, the symphony’s expressive potential often seemed underdeveloped, an example being the overly chaste presentation of the normally breathtaking quotation from Bruckner’s Mass in F Minor about five minutes into the Finale. These are things that will no doubt improve as Jurowski’s interpretation matures. Given its rarity, it was good to have the opportunity to hear the symphony, and there was no doubting the quality and dedication of the orchestral playing.

Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk.

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