mon 20/11/2017

Zehetmair, LPO, Jurowski, RFH | reviews, news & interviews

Zehetmair, LPO, Jurowski, RFH

Zehetmair, LPO, Jurowski, RFH

A trio of modernist magpies sing in strident harmony

With both microphone and baton, Vladimir Jurowski was a committed guideVera Zhuravleva

This is how new and modern music should be done. In the London Philharmonic, we had an orchestra well-prepared to meet technical challenges and resolved to making sense from them. Vladimir Jurowski is a conductor who places faith in composers and audiences, who can welcome listeners and guide them through the evening as a congenial master of ceremonies rather than dessicated college lecturer.

In both words and performance, Jurowski made a case for the Symphonies of Wind Instruments as Stravinsky’s first radical orchestral work (setting aside the trio of ballets for Diaghilev). The verse-refrain structure was uncovered, with especially fine playing from flautist Juliette Bausor. A similar clarity of intent and gesture illuminated the tiny, endlessly fascinating Variations in memory of Aldous Huxley, from the other end of the composer’s protean career. Angular the theme may be, formidably rigorous its working out according to serial procedures, but Stravinsky knew how to make every note a Stravinsky note, even the ones he’d stolen.

Violinist Thomas Zehetmair

Bernd Alois Zimmermann was a still more voracious musical magpie, as Jurowski has shown over the years by steadily working through the peaks of his output with the LPO. On Saturday night it was the turn of an early work, the compact Violin Concerto from 1950. The astringent tone of soloist Thomas Zehetmair (pictured left by Jean-Baptiste Millot) suited the piece and cut through the heavy orchestration. The three movements are organised along neoclassical lines, while the edgy lyricism of the solo writing pitches the concerto in the Bartókian tradition developed by Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Hans Werner Henze. Like Henze, Zimmermann saw even instrumental music in theatrical terms: the central Fantasia, in particular, staged a furious combat between the one and the many.

Zimmermann was the Marco-Pierre White of post-war compositionThe Seventh is Henze’s Pyrrhic act of revenge upon the Berlin Philharmonic, who commissioned the work for their centenary in 1982, and by extension on the entire German cultural establishment, from whom Henze had felt himself ostracised: for his far-left politics, for his self-imposed exile in Italy, and for his unclassifiably eclectic music. He cast the Seventh into the four movements of time-worn tradition which pursue a Hölderlin-inspired narrative of madness and decay.

If the Austro-German symphonic tradition is your much-loved casserole pan, Henze is an experienced cook who strides into your kitchen with the Seventh, turns the gas on full blast, burns the casserole and breaks the pan but continues to throw things in the pot regardless. (Zimmermann has already trashed the kitchen with his mates but carries on chopping, boiling and mixing with the unstoppable compulsion to use up every ingredient in the spice rack. Truly he was the Marco-Pierre White of post-war composition).

Jurowski was as good as his word in bringing a light touch to the vestigial sonata-form of the first movement of the Seventh and a lush, post-Straussian elegy in the first half of its finale. Still, you can dress an elephant in a tutu, but you can’t make it dance. A Stravinskian homage to Orpheus in the slow movement’s scintillating exchange between harp and oboes only showed how unnecessary and self-defeating were the six trumpets and trombones which obliterated sense at the climaxes of each movement. I heard far more detail in concert than any commercial recording (there are four): the result was deafening, maddening and enthralling all at once.

@peterquantrill

You can dress an elephant in a tutu, but you can’t make it dance

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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