Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LPO/Jurowski @ Royal Festival Hall, London

25 September 2009

Mahler’s Symphony 2 in C minor (Resurrection) not only requires huge forces, but needs a conductor of the highest calibre who is able to eschew superficial bombast in order to deliver a deeply spiritual and moving account of this exceptional work.

Fortunately Vladimir Jurowski managed just that as not only was the impact of this emotionally draining yet spiritually uplifting performance shattering, but it will go down in the annals as one of the finest Mahler performances that London has heard in years.

I must confess that whilst I have admired the work that Jurowski has done with the LPO, I have rarely been thrilled or moved by it. I often felt that the orchestra only ever really played their hearts and souls out when they were under Yannick Nzet-Sguin (their Principal Guest Conductor), but such thoughts were swept aside at this concert when Jurowski pulled out all the stops and delivered a performance of such epoch-making grandeur, so rich in orchestral and choral splendour that one was left grasping for superlatives at the close.

The opening movement had a ferocity that I’ve not encountered before, building as it did to an inexorable climax no gesture was wasted, every phrase and dynamic scrupulously rehearsed so that the overall effect was like hearing this familiar work a-new. The members of the LPO responded to Jurowski’s inspired direction with playing of such eloquence, power and refinement that it took the breath away. This was a performance on an exalted level – all sections playing with pinpoint accuracy yet it never sounded clinical or over analytical and was undercut with a sense of vitality and theatre that never descended into the brash or vulgar.

The tempo that Jurowski adopted for the Andante moderato at first seemed too deliberate but within the overall context of the performance was judiciously chosen. The Scherzo began with a terrifying introduction from the timpani and had a properly sardonic bite to it the climax was overwhelming, which ebbed away to allow a tender, sepulchral introduction to Urlicht. Here mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn sang the opening ‘O Rschen rot’ with a warmth and tenderness that brought a lump to the throat. From there on to the end the performance was quite simply incandescent the chorus were spell-binding whether in their hushed, barely audible entrance ‘Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n…’ or in full flight at the work’s close.

This performance was remarkable on many levels and the undoubted architect of the success was Vladimir Jurowski. I’ve heard this symphony played many times, but never has a performance come close to matching this for its intensity or overwhelming power. This was definitely the performance of a lifetime.

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