Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LPO/Jurowski @ Royal Festival Hall, London

16 January 2010

The compass needle was pointing east when this concert was devised, the imaginative programme combining works by Szymanowski and Shostakovich.

Southbank Centre

Royal Festival Hall (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

Dating from 1916, Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto is a highly original work, notable for its haunting, otherworldly melodies and luxurious orchestration.Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony similarly represents some of the composer’s most vivid and distinctive musical ideas.

Opening the concert, however, was Shostakovich’s rarely heard Five Fragments, composed in 1935 immediately before the symphony. With a Webern-like brevity, the five orchestral sketches together last no more than ten minutes, each a contrasting study in mood and texture. Vladimir Jurowski brought a compelling sense of delicacy and atmosphere to these fascinating miniatures.

Carolin Widmann’s interpretation of Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto encapsulated the work’s passionate and rhapsodic elements in equal measure, the numerous passages for the violin’s highest register delivered with confidence and refinement. The orchestral accompaniment was rich and articulate, but somewhat reserved, especially in comparison with Widmann’s passionate advocacy. As a result, this splendid concerto didn’t quite shine with its full lustre.

Jurowski and the LPO were on surer ground with Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony. This was a superbly prepared and immensely imposing account, the orchestra inhabiting Shostakovich’s sound world to a remarkable degree. Indeed, the shrieking woodwind, angry percussion and baleful brass made the LPO sound more like a Russian orchestra than a British one.

Jurowski’s tempi were relatively swift by modern standards, bringing a strong sense of kinetic energy to the music’s faster passages, including an electrifying account of the fugal section in the first movement. The symphony’s strident marches and frenzied climaxes, which Jurowski summoned from the orchestra with the most modest of gestures, were projected with crushing power. The performance was equally convincing in the the ironic waltzes of the third movement, and the mysterious, ominous conclusion was superbly controlled.

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