sat 02/08/2014

De la Salle, LSO, Luisi, Barbican | Classical music reviews, news & interviews

De la Salle, LSO, Luisi, Barbican

Conductor from the New York Met makes LSO debut with Bruckner 8

Fabio Luisi, LSO debutant

It is not often we hear Bruckner’s colossal Eighth Symphony in its longer and far quirkier original version (1887 ed. Nowak) and when we do hear it in either of its two incarnations it invariably stands alone. That Fabio Luisi chose it for his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra was in itself more than a little revealing and the fact that he added Mozart’s 23rd Piano Concerto as an apéritif seemed to suggest that he had something to say about Bruckner’s uneasy quest for the kind of classical perfection that Mozart took for granted. 

The young French pianist Lise de la Salle (pictured below) initially seemed over-anxious to scintillate, pushing the tempo of the first movement as if the faster she drove it the brighter it would sparkle. Her passage work, though skillful, felt breathless, ungracious, precarious. The arrival of the second subject had none of that heart-easing quality which suggests the arrival of an old friend and lovely though the playing of the LSO was there might have been more sense of togetherness (literally and metaphorically) had she allowed herself more room to savour their union. The slow movement was too knowingly weighted - real simplicity still eludes her - though here at least there was the breathing space to arrive in perfect accord with her colleagues on at least one consonant chord. Everybody enjoyed the finale, including me.

Bruckner’s reputation for going nowhere at great length has some foundation here

Bruckner’s Eighth in its original version is a very different - and I mean very different - symphony from that of its 1890 revision, the version we normally hear. The challenges of pulling it off are immense. This is one of those fascinating instances of an infinitely intriguing but deeply flawed piece made whole and great and profoundly satisfying by way of good old-fashioned soul-searching and self-criticism. I don’t think there is anything in the original version that is not improved upon (as in better honed and more logically evolved) in the revision and yet the daring and visionary audacity of Bruckner’s first thoughts are endlessly fascinating. I wonder if Luisi always performs the piece in this version and if so, why?

Because this was a most impressively wrought account where even the succession of wrong turns and non sequiturs were made to sound rational by their very conviction. Even so, one’s sense of exploration was always tempered by the irritation of having lost one’s way and such high points as the great “Annunciation of Death” climax (as Bruckner dubbed it) seemed fudged compared to the uncompromisingly clear-sighted revision. How much more effective, too, the quiet ending of this first movement as opposed to yet another brassy apotheosis.

Luisi and the orchestra turned the scherzo into a zesty Rhine journey at the gallop with terrific uplift from the strings. The trio - unrecognisable from what it would become - eased us into an unscheduled reverie where the sense of having strayed from the path had me wondering if we would ever find our way back again.

And while the deep burnished sound of the LSO in the Adagio was enormously satisfying (not least the underpinning string basses and sombre oration of four Wagner tubas) there was a very real sense of uncharted exploration, of travel without destination. So Bruckner’s reputation for going nowhere at great length has some foundation here but not in the revision where the summit is arrived at without the need for multiple cymbal crashes to tell us so.

Luisi - Principal Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York - has a wonderful ear for the voicing of long phrases and can make a drama out of a crisis with the best of them - but I should now like to hear him in the revision of the Eighth Symphony and much more Bruckner besides.

Even the succession of wrong turns and non sequiturs were made to sound rational by their very conviction

rating

4

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