thu 07/12/2023

Fischer, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - total focus in shattering threnodies | reviews, news & interviews

Fischer, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - total focus in shattering threnodies

Fischer, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - total focus in shattering threnodies

Superb concerto partnership in Britten, and a Tchaikovsky interpretation perfected

Julia Fischer: alert, unshowy, riveted to direct musical expression

Throughout his 11 years as Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra to date, Vladimir Jurowski has focused on two elements, programme-wise: tellingly-linked concerts of the rich and rare, and fine-tuned interpretations of the repertoire's cornerstones over the seasons.

Next month he'll be reprising his meticulously calibrated view of Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony; last night it was again the turn of Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique" - an absolute pinnacle of depth and discipline, building on the sound which stunned us when the team unfolded Russian rarities at the Proms, but also offering revelatory correspondences with Britten's towering Violin Concerto before the interval.

The starter was a gem, ending like Lyadov's Baba Yaga at the Proms with a witty fleck as the proto-Firebird of Scriabin's Enigme, more like a goldfinch, fluttered into the ether. The late and much-missed Oliver Knussen made his arrangements of five experimental Scriabin piano pieces back in 1978; I confess I didn't know of their existence, but they need to be a regular fixture on the programmes of chamber orchestras. In three of the pieces, strings deftly handle the radical harmonies Scriabin pioneered in the first decade of the 20th century, with the woodwind adding exquisite brushstrokes of new colour, though flute (the peerless Juliette Bausor) and clarinet (welcome to the LPO, Benjamin Mellefont) are our guides in the other two numbers. Knussen's ear for the right sonorities was well served by Jurowski's light-of-touch perfectionism.

There was a total consonance rare in concerto partnerships between Julia Fischer and her orchestral colleagues in the Britten: essential since especially in one of the earliest of the composer's great Passacaglias this is as much a symphony-concerto as Prokofiev's work for cello and orchestra of that name. Like Jurowski, Fischer is alert, unshowy, riveted to a direct musical expression that was further crystallised in her utterly apt encore, Bach's G minor Sarabande.

Coming in the concerto from a mysterious distance - Scriabin's, perhaps - Fischer's tone flew into laser-beam focus, almost uncannily spotlighting the great opening melody. Later the rhythmic ricochets shared and exchanged with brass and side-drum had amazing unity and precision. The shared depth of dramatic utterance in the finale made one wonder for whom or what Britten was writing such shattering obsequies prior to the Sinfonia da Requiem: for the loss of the England he'd left behind on his journey to Canada and America, for the imminent explosion of war in 1939, for the death of his beloved mother two years previously? Jurowski and the LPO in rehearsalIn terms of depth, certainly, the Violin Concerto need fear no comparisons with Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony; in both, the profundity is allied to magisterial use of rising and falling scales, or portions of them. Britten praised Tchaikovsky's juice-extraction from these simple ingredients in the Pas de deux of The Nutcracker when he was working on his full-length ballet The Prince of the Pagodas, but one wonders if he was thinking of the composer's greatest symphony here. Thanks to Jurowski's canny connection, we noticed even more of them from the razor-sharp brass in the disorienting fury of the first-movement development, though the descending scale is clear at the end of the first three movements.

Jurowski's first LPO performance of this masterpiece was itself discombobulating (conductor and orchestra pictured above by Benjamin Ealovega), full of the shock of the new. Now the interpretation feels utterly organic, but I still experienced it with all the tears, goosebumps and racing pulses of teenage first acquaintance. Sure of every effect, how to shape colossal climaxes and how to move the songs of love and despair, Jurowski is now achieving what is usually impossible in the Royal Festival Hall: a depth of string tone which marks out a great orchestra. It used to be difficult to tell London orchestras apart, but this one is becoming ever more individual. And though one might question Jurowski giving the audience its head to applaud and cheer the intoxication of the mighty march rather than plunging straight into the ever-shocking Adagio lamentoso, that second great threnody of the evening achieved its full impact, without fuss or crocodile tears but always fully alert to the emotional implications, making sure the listeners wept while players and conductor remained dry-eyed in their absolute focus.

In both the Britten and the Tchaikovsky works, profundity is allied to magisterial use of rising and falling scales


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters