Ax, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
Ax, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall
Jurowski's elaborate musical caprice with four captivating courses
Send in the clowns. Or at least that was Vladimir Jurowski’s musical thinking in bringing together the mighty foursome of Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Haydn and Shostakovich and seeing just how far their capricious natures might take us. The allusions and parodies came thick and fast and just when you thought there was no more irony to tap, in came the most outrageous instance of misdirection in the history of 20th-century music: Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony. And that is no joke.
Jurowski has fashioned some brilliant programmes in his time but I really cannot think of another where the ingenuity of the juxtapositions so satisfyingly chimed with the musical interactions. Each work was actually enhanced by its relationship to what had gone before and what was coming next. Music from Prokofiev’s absurdist operatic fable The Love for Three Oranges arrived first, its orchestral storyboard pithier, if you like, on account of Jurowski’s squeaky-clean articulation of it. Carlo Gozzi’s characters were “visualised” in cartoonish exclamations, each micro-dynamic so explicit and precise as to renew the startling originality of the scoring. I can’t think of a time when every note of this popular suite counted more. The “toy story” March was in itself a feat of musical animation. All of which augurs well for Jurowski’s Prokofiev series next year.
So the clowns – in the shape of Carlo Gozzi’s commedia dell’arte troupe – had arrived and so, too, had Emanuel Ax, a superannuated Harlequin, to tease and delight with one of Igor Stravinsky’s most scintillating confections – his Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra. The Baroque Concerto Grosso meets 1920s salon music in this elegantly subversive opus and between them Ax and Jurowski had its perspectives shifting and twitching like a piece of musical Cubism. There is a folksy allusion in the central slow section where Stravinsky manages to imitate the repeated-note twang of the cimbalom whilst simultaneously invoking the extravagance and beauty of Baroque embellishments. Only he. But it takes a true craftsman of the keyboard to do that – and Ax is certainly that.
We almost didn’t want the interval as Stravinsky gave way to Papa Haydn - the Piano Concerto in D - and good humour was now all about harmonic sleight of hand. Ax beautifully blurred the boundaries here between a nimble Classicism and dewy-eyed Romanticism. And I’ll wager that Jurowski had even considered the satisfying symmetry of a three-movement concerto mirrored by a three-movement symphony.
He and the London Philharmonic really have Shostakovich’s Sixth licked now. There was a moment in the protracted first movement Largo where the most strident of woodwind chords was cut off in its prime as if to suggest protesting voices forcibly stifled. There are enciphered protestations everywhere in this piece. It was perhaps the biggest deception Shostakovich ever sprung on the oppressive Soviet establishment. He effectively promised a grandiose Lenin tribute and delivered a three-ring circus.
The tragic tone of the opening leads us to expect heroism but what we get is outrage with a rictus smile. The contrast could hardly have been more extreme in Jurowski’s reading. He nails the desolation of the first movement (cue Shostakovich’s sorrowful instruments of choice, cor anglais, flutes and piccolo) but makes it about so much more than just atmosphere. And then perceptions of slapstick are pushed beyond the Keatonesque to progressively faster extremes (brilliant work from the LPO) with the solo piccolo so startled as to almost pop off the chart of his upper register.
And wouldn’t you be at the prospect of the Red Army Band’s 11th-hour entrance? As I say, no joke.
- The LPO and Jurowski perform Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 4, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (with Christian Tezlaff) and Julian Anderson’s The Crazed Moon tonight at the RFH
- See what else is on at the Southbank Centre
- Visit the LPO website
- Find Vladimir Jurowski on Amazon
Share this article
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Classical music
Among the Christmas staples, it's a relief to find an imaginative take on a different theme
Hymning the human in a Nielsen masterpiece and the cosmic in a psychedelic epic by Busoni
Six of 2014's best seasonal releases
French Baroque specialists take musical journey around early 18th-century Europe
An earthbound Messiah lacks wonder and urgency
Christmas music from far and wide glowingly sung by a young, rising, gifted British choir
Dream team for Birtwistle, while the pianist shines in Ligeti and Messiaen
The Hilliards and Garbarek know how to play the building
Birtwistle’s new Piano Concerto dazzles, but that's only one course in an orchestral feast
Tribute showcases a master of both the miniature and the monumental
Russian symphonies, a seasonal ballet and a Norwegian guitarist's debut disc
Exhilarating gloom in the young Rachmaninov's First Symphony redeems hazy Scriabin