London Philharmonic Orchestra, Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall
Bells and Edgar Allan Poe in another well-connected programme from the LPO
What, another review of an LPO/Jurowski concert in less than a week? Reasoning the need, it only has to be said that other orchestras may kick off their seasons by mixing the unfamiliar with core repertoire, but none would dare launch with not one but two programmes featuring this only-connect kind of singularity (and more to come in the “War and Peace” series next week). Last night the known quantity of Rachmaninov’s masterly choral symphony The Bells looked back to less familiar fare which shared two of its themes: the sounds of some very unorthodox tintinnabulations and the Russification of Edgar Allen Poe.
So we had two Russian works composed before the Revolution, catching the sometimes heady whiff of dissolution in the air, and two from after the Second World War, freeze-framing the cataclysm to varying degrees. These were the collage-y mood musics of Rodion Shchedrin’s Second Concerto for Orchestra (The Chimes) and Edison Denisov’s Bells in the Fog. Both began on the cusp of silence, fastidiously voiced by LPO strings and brass. Yet while Shchedrin’s apocalypse built up more of a strident momentum on the way to its final, rather muted gunshot, Denisov’s pointillism held the ear more in thrall to its delicate bellsongs, with Webern-inspired pinpricks of sound giving way after the briefest of uprisings to a couple of surprising high major chords.
Jurowski kept what I suspect are rather clotted textures helpfully clear and occasionally striking
These were UK premieres. So, more surprisingly, 101 years after its first performance, was the preaching of the “symphonic parable” Silentium by that saturnine late-romantic bridge between Rachmaninov and Prokofiev, Nikolay Myaskovsky. The programme booklet helpfully gave its source, Edgar Allan Poe’s fable, in full, and while we might smirk at its rodomontade, the lesson – as Jurowski pointed out in conversation afterwards – is especially pertinent in our noise-filled world: man can endure everything the Devil throws at him except silence.
Myaskovsky represents it, paradoxically, with more of his low-register descents after a reasonably effective storm. There’s reluctant fascination to be had here over 20 minutes’ worth of minor-key music without a single glimmer of light. The material isn’t exactly inspired, and could be expressed in half the time, but Jurowski kept what I suspect are rather clotted textures helpfully clear and occasionally striking.
The masterpiece, no doubt about it, was Rachmaninov’s The Bells, a light-and-shade compendium of the three ages of man as represented by the three soloists, with a collective choral witches’ Sabbath over the "howling of the alarm bell" thrown in which Jurowski sees as exultant rather than a black catastrophe. It is a work this conductor knows and loves, his interpretation reaching a peak of sophistication here with revelatory balances in the filigree textures of the opening movement’s youthful sleigh bells. Its ecstatic upsurges still allowed tenor Sergei Skorokhodov along with the combined forces of London Symphony and London Philharmonic choruses - disciplined, if not clear with the words as a Russian choir might be - to cut through.
The LPO strings are now sounding exceptionally warm and sensuous, consolidating their happy work on Wednesday’s Strauss and Zemlinsky double-bill and resplendently intertwined here with the involvement of soprano Tatiana Monogarova (pictured above right by Eugene Beregovoy) in the “wedding bells” sequence. Pitch is notoriously difficult to sustain in the middle-to-upper register Rachmaninov writes for, but Monogarova just about held it with a winning sense of rapture. Not so the baritone, the now-veteran Vladimir Chernov, who never quite found his centre of gravity in the final, taxing funeral threnody. It was left to Rachmaninov’s levitational orchestral epilogue, soaring beyond the reach of Poe’s inconsolable text and lovingly phrased here, to send us floating from the hall.
Vladimir Jurowski introduces the "War and Peace" series beginning on Wednesday
- Further details of the LPO's collaboration with the Russian National Orchestra in Jurowski's "War and Peace" series
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
Valuable Proms premiere for Vaughan Williams’ equivocal vision of utopia
Five-work marathon showcases exceptional pianists and the less familiar specimens
Bliss’s personal war requiem in Hereford Cathedral
Utopian music-making led by the Järvi family in Estonia's magical summer town
Ravishing orchestral playing in Boulez and Holst, superb control from the Finnish conductor
Young Israeli pianist aims big, with intelligence to spare, in Ligeti, Rameau and Schubert
Triumphant end to a four-year pilgrimage thrills Proms audience
The Norwegian pianist's marvellous musicianship deserved a larger audience
Sublime viol music, introspective pianism and a lively chamber disc
Light and air fill the Royal Albert Hall in Beethoven, but Stravinsky needs to dance
Michael Symmons Roberts introduces a project to respond to Messiaen through poetry and painting; we also publish one of his poems
Period specialists' superb account of Cheryl Frances-Hoad's ravishing world premiere overshadows Tallis