tue 21/11/2017

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

Bondarenko, LPO, Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall

Bondarenko, LPO, Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall

An amazing Enescu symphony tops the bill in an enterprising concert packed with pleasures

The prodigious Georges Enescu: amazingly beautiful textures in his Third Symphony

The concert season’s title may be Rachmaninoff Inside Out. But the work that dominated and got people talking in yesterday’s instalment of Vladimir Jurowski’s London Philharmonic series was by another composer entirely. “Weird, isn’t it?” said the man in the row behind. And that was only after the first movement of George Enescu’s massive Symphony No. 3, one of the most remarkable effusions by the composer and crack violinist chiefly known for his pair of Romanian Rhapsodies, popular picture postcards.

Jurowski likes programming these early 20th-century epics, the sonic equivalent of the Zeppelins and barrage balloons that first haunted Europe’s skies around the time of the First World War. Enescu started writing this symphony in 1916, the year Romania entered the battle and a Zeppelin repeatedly bombed Bucharest. But no airship, in war or peace, ever achieved the beauty of the amazing textures conjured over 50 minutes by the composer's huge orchestra, packed with six fruity trombones, a wordless chorus (the London Philharmonic Choir and Trinity Boys Choir), organ, and a percussion section lacking only the kitchen sink.

Jurowski seems to have reached the magic state when he can summon a packed house to hear anythingJurowski’s LPO, splendidly rehearsed, had the time of their lives. The tuba danced a brief duet with a harp. A xylophone had a nervous breakdown. Strings spiralled upwards like clouds of incense, or slid with the squelch of a window cleaner’s cloth. Enescu’s themes were just as prodigal, coming at us in several clumps before undergoing a constant process of expansion and cross-fertilisation. No orderly sonata form for him.

What did it all mean, though? Past commentators have tried to fit this symphony into the grid of Dante’s Divine Comedy, with each movement variously assigned to the Inferno, Purgatory, or Paradise. Give them marks for trying at least. Clearly the score carries the torture marks of the First World War. Yet most of the music wriggles too much to comfortably fit any cubby-hole for long. Even in the becalmed finale, with its choral vocalise, tinkling bells and worshipful organ, the terrain suggested not so much divine paradise, more a sci-fi film’s brave new world, one well beyond our solar system. The symphony’s rocket ship had finally reached Planet Enescu. I hope others enjoyed the space trip as much as I did – I couldn’t recall the last 50-minute span of “new” music so densely packed with wonders.

The evening’s first half wasn’t thumb-twiddling, either. Jurowski seems to have reached the magic state when he can summon a packed house to hear anything he conducts with the LPO, however unfamiliar. Who now goes about whistling Rachmaninoff’s Russian folk song settings of 1926, or his cantata Spring from 1902? Yet we sat spellbound as these pocket vessels of the composer’s distinctive magic unfolded. The London Philharmonic Choir's altos and basses might not have brought the earthy resonance of the great Russian bass Chaliapin, who featured two of the folk songs in his repertoire. But they were plangent enough in these gloomy tales of jealousy and abandonment, gorgeously accompanied by the orchestra. So much sorrow crept into Jurowski’s phrasings at one point that I almost dropped a tear.

There was plenty of Russian misery too in the cantata Spring, where thoughts of winter domestic murder were finally knocked out by the last-minute arrival of the new season’s green shoots. But, backed by the choir, the fluid and beautifully poised baritone of the 2011 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition winner Andrei Bondarenko always made pleasant listening, even when he cried “Kill, kill the betrayer!”  And then came the remarkable Enescu. Why can’t all concerts be as rewarding and exciting as this?

Jurowski’s LPO, splendidly rehearsed, had the time of their lives. The tuba danced a brief duet with a harp. A xylophone had a nervous breakdown

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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