Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LPO/Jurowski @ Royal Festival Hall, London

24 September 2014

Southbank Centre

Royal Festival Hall (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

At the start of the opening concert of his 8th season as the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Conductor, Vladimir Jurowski spoke to the audience about the orchestra’s new Composer in Residence, Magnus Lindberg, and the main work on the programme, Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony. Although the symphony is generally referred to as a wartime work, Jurowski explained that for him it is not a work about war but about people affected by war. Referring to the propensity of the human race to start wars every 25 years or so, he expressed his concern about present day events in Ukraine and Syria (“the air is smelling of gunpowder”) and spoke compellingly of the symphony’s continuing relevance for today’s audiences.

The concert opened with Chorale, a short orchestral work that Lindberg wrote in 2002 based on Johann Rudolf Ahle’s Es ist genug, a chorale also used by Bach in his Cantata BWV60 and by Berg in his Violin Concerto. Lindberg’s composition consists of slow moving harmonisations of the chorale melody, occasionally reminiscent of Messiaen, decorated by more rapid contributions from different sections of the orchestra. Jurowski’s performance brought out the communicative immediacy of Lindberg’s music, the divided strings at the close especially beautiful.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet was the soloist in a vibrant performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3, his playing virtuosic and full of attack where required, but also warm and lyrical in the concerto’s more relaxed passages. The accompaniment by the orchestra had snap and character, helping to bring the concerto to a joyously energetic conclusion. Bavouzet responded to the enthusiastic audience with two encores, Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair) and Massenet’s Toccata.

If Jurowski’s introductory talk suggested that Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony holds special significance for him, the outstanding performance that closed the concert confirmed it. From the tragic import of the first movement to the relentless rhythmic propulsion of the third, Jurowski’s grip on the music was absolute, and the emotional impact overwhelming. The enigmatic fifth movement, which sometimes comes across as superfluous, was especially moving. As for the quality of the orchestral playing, it’s impossible not to be impressed by sheer flexibility of the LPO, an orchestra back from a summer spent performing opera at Glyndebourne, here creating an echt Shostakovich sound with climaxes of a scalding intensity comparable with some of the great Soviet performances of the past.

After the concert, Magnus Lindberg and Vladimir Jurowski hosted an informal discussion where members of the audience were invited to ask questions and give feedback on what they had heard, in an interesting and valuable session.

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

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