wed 30/09/2020

Brewer, LPO, Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Brewer, LPO, Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall

Brewer, LPO, Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall

Freshly reinterpreted core rep felt in the gut rather than the heart

In a London Philharmonic season playing safer than before, principal conductor Vladimir Jurowski has earned the right to a few meat-and-two-veg programmes. Even in a concert containing more than a handful of your hundred best tunes, Wagnerian carrots and Straussian greens were presented pleasingly al dente, with a prelude to this crack team's longest ever impending Glyndebourne journey and the most secure of all living dramatic sopranos soaring assuredly. And Jurowski always serves up prime cuts of Tchaikovsky freshly, without rich sauce. After a discombobulating Pathétique Symphony a couple of seasons back, duly recorded, this was a Fifth veering more to the Classical than the Romantic, felt in the gut rather than the heart.

Not that the evening began on entirely solid ground. What is it about the honest, cultured C major of the Meistersinger Prelude that lets you know immediately whether the soul is truly implicated? Lothar Koenigs revealed that right at the start of the Welsh National Opera's unsurpassable Wagner last June; Jurowski, with a couple of weeks to go to the opening of the Glyndebourne season, doesn't, quite. A balmy love-idyll seemed briefly to settle, but then the violins flew up in ragged formation for the first of the ceremonials proper. It all sounded fierce rather than warm, though with delicious balance for the simultaneous triple whammy of themes after the big build, tuba Lee Tsarmaklis making a beautiful job of his melody shared with the basses on the bottom line. Still, Jurowski's Glyndebourne Tristan und Isolde grew into a thing of wonder, so there's certainly still time for a more holistic, healing touch.

With Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs we were at least reminded what a sensitive, secure singers' conductor Jurowski can be. This was a muscle-toned farewell rather than a soft, fleshly creature of tearful sentiment, and the cast-iron technique with which Christine Brewer masters her opulent dramatic soprano compounded that impression. The peak of her open-toned refulgence - think the Flagstad approach Strauss originally had in mind, rather than the sweetness of the classic Gundula Janowitz interpretation - now comes in the upper mid-range rather than at the very top of the voice. That meant that some of the long, unfurling phrases felt just a little lopsided. But it was a joy to see, as well as hear, her melding with the orchestra, eyeing LPO leader Pieter Schoeman sympathetically as he cued her free flight in the third song. For the final sunset, Jurowski settled on the most ideal tempo and effortlessly unfolded string phrasing I've ever heard in this hard-to-gauge apotheosis, and if Brewer unexpectedly faltered in greeting a possible vision of death just a little too early, the colours and the simple human warmth she brought to bear here were very much of a piece with the interpretation as a whole - one eye resolutely dry, the other with only just the faintest glimmer of a tear.

But then we don't always need to wallow in the eightysomething Strauss's quiet curtain, just as we don't always have to be knocked emotionally for six by Tchaikovsky's most immaculately tailored trajectory of symphonic darkness to light. There was little sense of the epic, of the heartfelt deep-digging I last heard in the piece from Christian Vásquez conducting Venezuela's Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra. Instead, Jurowski used sombre colours from fabulous double basses and low-lying clarinet, as well as keen phrasing, to make implicit the grim gauntlet Tchaikovsky throws down before a no-nonsense, well-articulated march and a discriminating bout of lyricism. Even the Andante cantabile saved its heart-on-sleeve for the last big outburst; the waltz was delicately nuanced, truly feminine to offset the masculine four-squareness of fate-as-providence in the finale. With further immaculate, masterful swivelling between well-chosen speeds, Jurowski left us exhilarated but hardly breaking a sweat. Surely this kind of elegance in a Tchaikovsky warhorse is no bad thing once in a while?

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