Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Prom 53: London Philharmonic Orchestra – Vladimir Jurowski @ Royal Albert Hall, London

23 August 2006

The works in this dramatic Prom were linked by the sound of bells,whether explicitly in Rachmaninov’s choral symphony, in Shakespeare’s’surly sullen bell’ as realised by Mark-Anthony Turnage, or in the pealthat rang out from Nikolai Lugansky‘s piano in the climax to thedazzling cadenza of Prokofievs second piano concerto.

Few sounds are more thrilling at the Albert Hall than a large chorus infull voice, and the banks of the assembled choruses, numbering more thantwo hundred, delivered an impressive wall of sound when required.

TheirRachmaninov performance (of The Bells) was truly gripping, in particular their depictionof the ‘raging fire’ in Alarum Bells, the effect of conductorVladimir Jurowski‘s sudden cut off at the end akin to a doorslamming shut.

The audience held their breath (at last!) for the elegiac cor anglaissolo with which the ‘Mournful Iron Bells’ began, the hollow triumph at theclose beautifully realised by conductor and orchestra, with organ easilyaccommodated in the texture.

The three soloists were magnificent, in particular baritone SergeiLeiferkus, his accent more obviously pronounced than that of thechorus, while Tatiana Monogarova‘s soprano floated easily above theorchestra. Vsevolod Grivnov‘s tenor was fully idiomatic, if a touchoverwhelmed by the chorus.

Mark-Anthony Turnage made eerie use of muted hand bells in A Relic of Memory, hisatmospheric fusion of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 71 and Mass excerpts. Thisallowed him the clever insertion of an older composition, Calmo,almost in its entirety. Written in memory of Oliver Knussen‘s wife,the passage was remarkably still as the large forces were suddenly scaleddown to just chorus and softly tolling bells. In parts Turnage’s rare forayinto choral music was reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Symphony ofPsalms, as well as containing hints of Copland and Britten, but in noway was it derivative. Though taxing the sopranos somewhat it nonethelessreceived a powerful performance.

Completing this heady trio was Prokofievs large-scale Second Piano Concerto, withthe agile soloist Lugansky bearing more than a passing resemblance to theprogrammes picture of the dapper young composer. The second is unashamedlya work of bravura, yet it leaves ample opportunity for lyrical expression,which the orchestra found in the enchanting opening.

Lugansky was technically superb and was in complete control of the buildup to the cadenzas explosion, where the re-entry of the brass had a realtingle factor. The heavy tread of the Intermezzo, meanwhile,dissipated into the brilliance of the finale, Jurowski alive to theobviously Russian second theme.

Jurowski was happy to give credit to others – Turnage, the chorusmasters, Lugansky – but was himself deserving of a rousing reception. Hisfull-time tenure with the LPO begins in earnest next year, and should bewatched very closely.

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