sat 28/01/2023

LPO, Renes, RFH review - solid Bruckner lacking in nuance | reviews, news & interviews

LPO, Renes, RFH review - solid Bruckner lacking in nuance

LPO, Renes, RFH review - solid Bruckner lacking in nuance

A hefty Eighth Symphony, but with little detail or shape

Lawrence Renes, suitably driven and forthrightMats Baêcker

This concert was to have been conducted by Stanisław Skrowaczewski, who died in February. Though futile, it’s hard not to speculate about what could have been, especially given his spectacular Bruckner performances with the London Philharmonic in recent years.

But life goes on, and in his place we heard Lawrence Renes, whose account of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony was solid and dependable, even if it was more memorable for the quality of the orchestral playing than for his interpretive insights.

Renes is a Dutch/Maltese conductor, well established in both of those countries and a regular visitor to most of the world’s musical centres. He’s not often heard in London though, his only previous appearances in the UK having been with the BBC Scottish, BBC Symphony and at English National Opera, where he conducted John Adams’s Doctor Atomic. Opera takes up a large part of his schedule, and he has the air of an opera conductor even when on the concert platform, taking a no-nonsense approach to the music and always pushing on from one section to the next, as if to stifle audience applause after a big aria.

He projected a clear sense of structure and progression but at the expense of poise and detail

That’s a mixed blessing in Bruckner. It allows him to project a clear sense of structure and progression, but at the expense of poise and detail. Renes’s grasp of the symphony’s shape was everywhere apparent, especially in the tempo choices and the relative weight of each of the climaxes. He wasn’t afraid to let the brass loose when required, no doubt aware of their excellent tonal control, even at the very loudest dynamics. The clean and unified string tone was another important asset, their precise ensemble apparent from the downbeat of each movement, and their colour and energy another valuable ingredient for the climaxes.

Renes conducted without a score, but perhaps that was ill-advised, as he gave very few cues to the players – not that they needed them, but communication at that level is important for influencing the finer points of balance, most of which were left to the orchestra’s collective judgement. Instead, Renes gave a clear beat and gestured, in the most general terms, the dynamic and mood he was after. There was little in the way of rubato here, and phrases were presented four-square and unshaped. That is where the lack of detail started to grate, with one phrase flowing into another, without any of the small changes to colour and mood that bring this music to life.

The louder music came off better than the quiet, and when one followed hard on the other, as in the woodwind chords that follow the brass fanfares at the start of the finale, it felt like the only change was in dynamic – again a sense of repose was lacking. Renes opted for the Haas edition of the score, which includes several extended quiet passages in the finale, omitted from the more popular Nowak edition. With or without these passages, the finale is long and rambling, and it takes special insights from the conductor to make them work. Here they just felt like unnecessary additions.

Those grumbles apart, there was much to enjoy. Renes was suitably driven in the scherzo, and if he didn’t pull back at woodwind interludes, it was refreshing to hear them presented in such a forthright and unambiguous way, this again aided by the excellent playing. And the climaxes were all suitably thundering, the coda of the finale leaving nobody in any doubt that the work had reached its conclusion, and a triumphant one at that. A serviceable reading, but not one that’s going to erase memories of the originally planned conductor any time soon.


Renes conducted without a score, but perhaps that was ill-advised, as he gave very few cues to the players


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Mr. Dixon, I am disappointed by your review as I (and basically every one else in the audience judging by the many cheers and standing ovations) thought it was a stunning performance, of a musical level seldom heard . Unlike you I felt Renes was totally in command and the orchestra really seemed to respect him. I saw many happy glances in his direction. But more importantly, the orchestra sounded like I haven't heard them in a long while. The depth in the string sound, and a real sustained, Wagnerian legato were at the base of this. Perfectly balanced winds and incredible tonal control by the brass to top it off. When it comes to conductors so many journalists and so-called journalists (like Norman Lebrecht) are all about youth and looks and visual effects. For me someone like Renes is in the same category as Kirill Petrenko and I for one would love to hear him much more often in London.

I couldn't agree more with the comment by Mr Drew to the critic. I was there too and it in my view, it was one of the finest live performances that I have heard of the work. And I have heard it live on quite a number of occasions.

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