Hahn, LPO, Skrowaczewski, Royal Festival Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
Hahn, LPO, Skrowaczewski, Royal Festival Hall
Delectable evening of Mozart and Bruckner from a living legend
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. That's quite a mouthful. Bruckner's symphonies can be too. But this is one of the reasons why Skrowaczewski has acquired quite a cult following for his Bruckner performances; it's why I once drove all the way to Zurich to hear him conduct one. His Bruckner is never offered as an indigestible slab of meat. It's never hard or chewy. What you get from Skrowaczewski's Bruckner is tenderness and deliciousness. I know this not from my trip to the Tonhalle which was a bit of a failure - I got lost in the Black Forest and was turned away at the doors ten minutes late - but from his famous recording of the complete cycle on Arte Nova, a very edible account.
He's 89 now and gnarled and knobbley, a twiglet in tails. But, boy, is he spritely. He bounded onto stage, fit and chipper. Never has a man worn nine decades of existence more lightly. It was undoubtedly patronising but it was nonetheless impossible not to marvel at his stamina and mental alertness. He was stool-less and score-less throughout the Bruckner and Mozart. But this physical marvel was but a starter to the main-course marvel: the music.
It's not every day you get the chance to catch a living legend
He was joined by Hilary Hahn for the Mozart Violin Concerto in A major, the Turkish, and they made a perfectly matched couple. Avoiding all extremes, they navigated a course of subtlety and great interest. One that concentrated on buoyant phrasing, swift changes of colour and emotional honesty. Much was made in the first movement of the strange harmonic about-turns that sink sunny passages into sudden darkness. Hahn carried this unease through into the slow movement, allowing the plangent quality of the violin melody to ring out. It was powerful stuff, as were her cadenzas, which were aided by an unassailable technical accuracy.
As his entrance suggested, Skrowaczewski is still a nimble old man and brought his jauntiness into the swaggering gypsy dance of the finale. Hahn's movements too were confident and compelling to the end. I'm not sure why she's acquired a reputation for being such an ice queen. She has a certain sangfroid to her stage presence but the music-making is rich in feeling. Skrowaczewski's accompaniment matched this; it wasn't particularly authentic (though it was swift) or Romantic (though there was room for idiosyncrasies) or Classical (though the orchestra was lean). It was just very, very good.
His Bruckner Seven after the interval was similarly its own person. It was a performance full of interesting detail and attractive landscaping. A few faltering transitions aside, the balance of the orchestral colours was extremely attractive. We trekked up the work's many peaks slowly but with an original rhythmic kick and, once at the top, we were never disappointed. The glory was the final sunrise to the first movement, made all the more impressive by Skrowaczewski's finessing of both the near-silent roll into the crescendo and the brass fanfare that took us to the end.
The attraction of the second movement was to be found in the way the sunrise turned crepuscular and Mahlerian in the coda. The funereal sounds of the Wagnerian tubas were bleak, the cold shrieks of the flute piercing, an unusual and chilling end. The structure of Skrowaczewski's overall interpretation of the symphony was perhaps a little wonky. This might have been what slightly undermined the last movement, which is bitty at the best of times and needs its confusing logic to be more clearly worked out. Still, there was plenty of rhythmic juice to his beat that kept things interesting at all times.
The Skrowaczewski fan club could go away pretty satisfied. There's another chance for us to hear him again this Friday with Garrick Ohlsson, in a programme that has it all - colour, monumentalism and fireworks. Seize your chance. It's not every day you get the chance to catch a living legend.
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