tue 13/04/2021

Fischer, LPO, Jurowski, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Fischer, LPO, Jurowski, Royal Albert Hall

Fischer, LPO, Jurowski, Royal Albert Hall

Demons and reveries in another well-planned, fierily executed Prom

How did they do it? This was another Prom which looked almost too much on paper but worked hair-raisingly well in practice. It was a Vladimir Jurowski special: whizzing, clamorous demons versus introspective reveries, church bells bringing one witches' sabbath to an end, alarm bells kicking off another. And from the first rapid crescendo of the Musorgsky-Rimsky Korsakov Night on a Bare Mountain to the truly great Julia Fischer's much slower build of a cadenza in Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto and on to the final wind-up of Prokofiev's hellish Third Symphony, the performers held nearly everyone in yet another full house spellbound.

Sometimes Jurowski is so far ahead of the game that I can't always quite work out what he's up to. The Prokofiev Third is hardly core repertoire, yet I thought I knew it well enough. I felt wrong-footed to be hearing it almost as a new piece here, its seething, infernal middle-range textures ruthlessly exposed, the incantatory builds disconcertingly volatile and leading to climaxes that were mostly light and fleet rather than thick with smoke.

Prokofiev later claimed that his symphony should be heard as detached from its original context, his horrifying opera The Fiery Angel based on a novel by Valery Bryusov about demonic possession (or not) in Renaissance Cologne; but it comes ready packaged with the same textural devils buzzing around its memorable themes. There was a touch of detachment from its purely vocal qualities, and one rather bizarre, slightly incoherent final speeding to the ultimate thrash of the short, shocking finale: not quite hellfire, but something different and almost as compelling. Audience members looked at each other in astonishment at the scherzo's spirit-raising of skeetering, slithering 13-part strings before brass announced Satan's high noon and Jurowski swept straight on to the last midnight.

We can't say we hadn't been warned, and warmed up, not to say overheated, at the start. Jurowski made the best possible argument for the wild coherence of Rimsky-Korsakov's improvements to Musorgsky's original Night on a Bare Mountain. And improvements, for once, they are: how often, especially at the Proms, have we been served up the rambling, relatively disappointing original. Jurowski brought some of Musorgsky's own, raw sounds to the glittering arrangement - not least the thudding bass drum of the first stomp - and leapt tempo-wise between rituals with controlled panache. Full marks to LPO clarinettist Robert Hill and flautist Jaime Martin for making the release from hell so convincing, and paving the way for the woodwind's eerier solos in the Prokofiev. In that half of the concert, Jurowski found another predecessor I forget whenever I hear The Fiery Angel: Scriabin, whose demons lurked in another purposefully unstable reading, this time of the four-minute Reverie.

As the maestro himself seemed humbly and warmly to acknowledge, though, the greatness of the evening truly belonged to Julia Fischer, the soloist in Shostakovich's massive First Violin Concerto - a symphony-concerto in all but name. I've now heard three extraordinary violinists in less than a week at the Proms, all of them giving memorable encores - after Kavakos and Kraggerud, Fischer treated us to the diabolism of Ysaÿe, whose First Sonata she features in full at this lunchtime's Prom - and last night's took the palm.

It was a former master of the Shostakovich concerto, David Oistrakh, who compared its opening movement to a Shakespearean soliloquy. Accordingly he played the best Hamlet, but so too did Fischer last night - the violin equivalent of Kathryn Hunter's best of all possible Lears. Working with well-projected orchestral colours and forthright speeds that prevented the slow opening Nocturne and central Passacaglia from sinking into grey or sentimental murk, she kept her head high against the demons of depression or aggressive banality, always commanding rather than succumbing to the infernal dances of scherzo and finale.

And, oh, those majestic, remote fanfares she proudly conjured at the start of the most probing cadenza in the repertoire: how hauntingly they flew into the spaces of the vast hall. A soloist who draws you in always creates more magic in this venue than an orchestra at full pelt reaching out, and if there's one special sound I'll take away with me from this year's Proms, it will probably be that celestial violin-trumpeting.

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I was there last night and I thought that the Shostakovich was simply incredible. I say this as rather a huge Julia Fischer fan, but I felt last night, more than any previous occasion on which I've seen her in concert, that we were in the presence of a violinist who has to be considered alongside the greatest in history - surely? I'll probably be accused of overstating the case, but I don't know another violinist playing today who is so technically secure but so intense interpretatively. Maybe Kavakos. An interesting point, though, is that I've now heard her play the Ysaye three times as an encore in the past year, and she's never sounded happy playing it. She very nearly fell of the finger board in the first furious descending passage last night and it wasn't as good as I'd imagine she could play it. My partner, who's a professional violinist, said she thought she sounded a bit bored of it. I'll be interested to hear how she plays the 1st sonata in today's lunch time prom. I also wanted to comment on Kraggerud's performance of the Tchaikovsky the other night - I've read nothing but high praise for his performance. I heard it on the radio and it seemed quite different to me – and to another violin-playing friend who heard it. It sounded really rough on the radio, with Kraggerud fudging technical passages (I wonder if these were swallowed by the orchestral part in the hall) and generally being quite out of tune. I agree, though, that it was from a musical point of view an enjoyable performance - I was just surprised that no one commented on what seemed to me to be quite big technical problems. I concede, however, that performances can sound quite different in the hall to on the radio - I've often been surprised listening after how different it can sound, to the extent that you wonder if you've been to the same performance!

No, I don't think you're overstating the case for Julia Fischer, Andrew, and I saw that I myself had used 'great' and greatest' but then decided to leave in both. From his deferential demeanour, I sensed that Jurowski felt the same. You may be right about the Ysaye, but I was just glad she chose a piece that reflected the Dies Iraeish quality of the programme - I'd wanted something different from Kavakos and Kraggerud. And half the time the oafs in the box behind me were smothering it in loud chat. As for Kraggerud in Tchaikovsky, it is true that he could probably have gone for greater accuracy if the interpretation hadn't been so headlong, but I wouldn't call the technical passages exactly fudged. As I wrote, it would have seemed too fast if he hadn't eased up in expressive moments. And I could see the point of the interpretation, so I bought it. Especially after Kavakos playing That Korngold Concerto, which IMHO is a bit of a waste of time. The Tchaikovsky, never.

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