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Prom 66: Uchida, LPO, Jurowski | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 66: Uchida, LPO, Jurowski

Prom 66: Uchida, LPO, Jurowski

The Russian conductor brings intense focus to Shostakovich's vast Eighth Symphony

Vladimir Jurowski: unwaivering authority and focusBoth images BBC/Chris Christodoulou

After the broad, lyrical Shostakovich Tenth Symphony Andris Nelsons presented at the Proms last week, Vladimir Jurowski’s austere and unrelenting Eighth came as a shock. The two performances were equally fine, but at opposite ends of the Shostakovich spectrum. And the effect was intensified last night by a particularly terse programme, delivered with unrelenting intensity.

No easy listening here, but plenty of raw emotion, and everything delivered with utter conviction and to the highest musical standards.

Beethoven’s Fidelio Overture set the tone. Here, and throughout the evening, the string tone was immaculate, intense and focused, and put to the service of Jurowski’s dark, driven reading. A little more Classical elegance may have made this a gentler introduction, but Jurowski had other ideas. The sheer precision of the London Philharmonic’s playing allowed him to maintain the mood, and if the Q and A between the strings and woodwinds got swallowed up in the acoustic, the players could hardly be blamed. All round, a grim opener, from which things could only get lighter.

Fortunately, Mitsuko Uchida (pictured below; image BBC/Chris Christodoulou) was able to lighten the mood a little, albeit with Schoenberg’s knotty Piano Concerto. Uchida has a long relationship with this work, and previously performed it at the Proms in 1990. She brings out the music’s latent Romanticism, finding melodies and expressive devices at every level. Ranging across the keyboard in long paragraphs, she imposes order and continuity, despite the sectionalising tendencies of the serial language. And at a local level, she gives intense expression to the short motifs and thematic devices – the two and three note ideas that appear out of the texture and which she makes her own.

Meanwhile, Jurowski and the orchestra provided the stable basis to underpin Uchida’s wayward tempos and dynamics. Jurowski’s discipline also proved valuable in presenting Schoenberg’s surprising, and often highly experimental, orchestral ideas, the seemingly random martellato outbusts in the violas and divisi bass chords. Curious ideas, but here coerced into an effective, if always provisional, musical logic.

Jurowski presented the Shostakovich symphony, as he first did with the LPO nearly a year ago, as a single, intense musical statement. That impression was intensified by the sheer authority he brings to the podium – applause between movements is a subject of continual debate at the Proms, but there was no trace of it here, Jurowski’s motionless poise at the end of each movement enough to ensure the precious silence. As in the Beethoven, the symphony’s first movement offered a few moments of possible respite from the grinding intensity, but again Jurowski pushed on through regardless.

The ending of the fifth movement, a long, pitiful sigh of resignation, was spectacularAgain, the sheer quality of the orchestral playing allowed to maintain that concentrated expression over the huge span. Everything here is exposed – the unaccompanied first violin lines, the stratospheric woodwind solos – and all were played to perfection. So too in the second movement, this time the brass and percussion getting their moments to shine.

For all its unrelenting grimness, this proved to be a compelling reading, and by the end Jurowski had proved that the symphony’s singular structure is as logical as any. The fourth movement Largo was just perfect, again held together as a single and continuous musical statement under Jurowski’s unflinching baton. The moment towards the end where the minor key harmonies finally give way to a major chord in the flutes felt like a moment of hard won and well deserved transcendence, however brief. And the ending of the fifth movement too, a long, pitiful sigh of resignation, was spectacular, Jurowski again exercising his natural authority to continually intensify the mood, even as the music withered into silence. A gruelling but an unforgettable experience.

Read theartsdesk's reviews of other concerts from the BBC Proms 2015


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